Claiborne's pecan pie recipe stands the test of time
One day in 1960, a woman in Connecticut asked her daughter, Irene, to drive her to Stamford, about an hour away from their home. Craig Claiborne was going to be giving a cooking demonstration.
Irene, who was barely beyond 20 years old at the time, didn't care much about cooking. But she agreed to take her mother to see Claiborne in action.
Just three years before that cooking demonstration delivered on a stage set up with a bare-bones primitive kitchen, Craig Claiborne had been named food editor at the New York Times, the first male in the country to take on that position at a newspaper. It was a title he held until 1986.
Irene and her mother left the gymnasium that day with about 25 other curious and now quite satisfied home cooks, gripping Claiborne's recipes tightly in their hands.
Many years later, Irene sent Claiborne's recipe for pecan pie, adorned with his signature, to her pen pal, Molly Miron, editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. Irene and Molly were connected by their husbands, who had been roommates at a residential school they attended as boys.
A year or two ago, Molly passed the recipe on to me. "I had it posted on my refrigerator for the longest time and never made the pie," Molly said. "I prefer making my own recipe with whole pecan halves in the filling." Molly continued, "I thought you'd appreciate the recipe and Claiborne's signature."
She was right. I tucked the recipe into a plastic sleeve for protection and filed it away to try soon.
A couple of weeks ago I pulled out the recipe for Craig Claiborne's Pecan Pie, thinking it might be a nice dessert on Thanksgiving this year.
I tracked down Irene Tyrrell by phone, hoping to get a glimpse of what that day was like when she and her mother watched this man whose passion for food began as a child as he observed his mother at work in their kitchen in Mississippi. He probably watched her make pecan pie many times.
"The only thing I really remember about that cooking demonstration is that my mother and I thought Claiborne may have had a couple of drinks before the demonstration. He acted so silly. I never did make his recipe for pecan pie. I remembered a time about 40 years ago when Molly made a pecan pie. She's the only person I know who makes pecan pie. As I was cleaning and getting rid of things, I didn't want to just throw out the recipe. So I sent it to her."
Eventually it came to me. And now, I pass the recipe on to you.
Use your favorite pie crust - homemade or ready-made in a box from the refrigerated case at your local grocery store. Place it in a large 10-inch pie plate. And smother it with a deep pool of Craig Claiborne's filling that tastes like a creamy pecan-studded caramel that melts on your tongue.
Craig Claiborne's Pecan Pie is creamy and meaty with pecans, all at the same time. It's not as cloyingly sweet as many pecan pies. It is sinfully delicious.
Thanks Molly. Thanks Irene. You don't know what you're missing! Thanks Craig. My family will be enjoying pecan pie this Thanksgiving, prepared from a recipe with a long and interesting history.
Craig Claiborne's Pecan Pie
Pastry for a one-crust pie
1 1/4 cups dark corn syrup
1 cup firmly packed dark or light brown sugar
1/4 cup (one half stick) butter
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped or broken pecan meats
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup unbroken pecan halves
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Line a 10-inch pie tin or plate with pastry. Neatly trim or flute the edge of the pastry. Prick the bottom of the pastry with the tines of a fork. Place the pie tin or plate in the freezer for 10 minutes. Do not freeze.
Line pastry with parchment paper and fill with rice or dried beans. Bake 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 375 degrees and bake an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully pull out waxed paper with rice or beans. Set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Meanwhile, combine the corn syrup and brown sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, add the butter and stir until it melts.
Put the eggs in a mixing bowl and beat. Pour in the syrup mixture, stirring. Add the chopped pecan meats and vanilla extract. Stir to blend well.
Pour this filling into the partially baked pie crust. Arrange the pecan halves over the top.
Place in the oven and bake 45 to 50 minutes or until the filling is set. It will be soft and jiggly, a little bit like jello and will set as it cools.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings.
Tip from the cook
--I didn't measure out 1/2 cup pecan halves for decorating the top of the pie. I used just what I needed to make the design I wanted.
--Use a crust shield to protect the crust from getting too dark, or make your own shield by cutting a foil ring, using a light touch to place it on the crust.
--Since the recipe I received did not include the pastry, I made my own and included instructions for the way I baked the crust in this recipe.
--Served warm, the pie is like pudding. At room temperature it is soft and flavorful. Right out of the refrigerator, it's like eating candy.