May it Please the Palate

Pecan pie and other Southern goodness

Just returned from a road trip down south, to sunny Tampa. While my football team didn’t do so well, my gastronomical scorecard did better. My friend and I hit three “Drive-Ins, Diners, and Dives” restaurants, two Cincinnati chili parlors, a Tennessee fried chicken joint, a Cuban sandwich shop, a Waffle House, and the best ice cream in the world, Cincinnati-based Graeter’s. We also had some vegetables, if you count French fries.

Southern cuisine is uniformly brown. One of those brown beauties is Georgia pecans. Knowing these puppies can run upwards of $15 a pound up north, I was excited by a billboard that promised “FRESH SHELLED PECANS $3.99 LB.!” Just in case I forgot, the billboard was repeated every 1/4 mile, until finally the destination appeared. We pulled off only to face more giant billboards, promising the same deal, dwarfing a modest farm stand lined with bags o’ nuts. Picking one up, I was puzzled to see a bag of shelled pecans for $10 for 10 oz. I asked the proprietor about the $3.99 pecans. He directed me to the end of the row, where I picked up a bag, sure enough, that was $3.99 for a pound – of powder. This delicacy was called “pecan meal.” Pecan meal, for the uninitiated, are the flakes that are left over from chopping pecans. It looked like what you sweep off the basement floor when you have termites.

I could not reconcile this bag of dust with the signs outside, so I stepped out to look at the billboard one more time. This time I saw it – under the four foot high letters that read “Fresh Shelled Pecans $3.99 lb.!” was, in four inch letters at the very bottom of the sign, the word “meal.”

Duped, I left; but hit another much more reasonable pecan store a little further north. My goal was to make some pecan  pie when I got back home. While the bags are still unopened on my kitchen counter, I found an interesting recipe from Cooks Illustrated that uses maple syrup in lieu of corn syrup, noting that “maple syrup yields a softer, more custard-like pie.” As I love the combination of maple and pecans, I think I will try this. Additionally, to make it easier, I will use a pre-baked pie shell. That way I can write yet another brief instead of making pie crust – oh joy.

Maple Pecan Pie – Cooks Illustrated


For the crust:
One prebaked pie shell such as “Wholly Wholesome” organic. ‘Nuff said.

For the filling:
4 TBS unsalted butter, cut into 1” pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 cups whole pecans (6 oz.), toasted and chopped into small pieces

1. Melt butter in medium heatproof bowl set in skillet of water maintained at just below simmer. Remove bowl from skillet; mix in sugar and salt with wooden spoon until butter is absorbed. Beat in eggs, then maple syrup. Return bowl to hot water; stir until mixture is shiny and warm to the touch, about 130 degrees. Remove from heat; stir in pecans.

2. Pour mixture into pie shell; bake until center feels set yet soft, like gelatin, when gently pressed, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer pie to rack; let cool completely, at least 4 hours. Serve pie with lightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. If you want warm pie, cool the pie thoroughly, then cut and warm it in a 250-degree oven for about twenty minutes.

Forget the vegetables – this pie will make one fine meal.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. He occasionally updates his blog at