Some years after George Washington chopped down the cherry tree, Thomas Jefferson gave him a gift of pecan trees to plant at his Mount Vernon estate. First grafted commercially in 1846, pecans became integral to Southern hospitality and lifestyle. Most of the world’s production is still grown in the Southern states. Pecan pie was created in the 17th century by French settlers who were introduced to pecans by the native tribes in the area around New Orleans. The familiar version made with corn syrup does not show up until the beginning of the 20th century.
Thanksgiving 2008, our family held the first vegan versus traditional pecan pie throw-down. My dairy-free, maple syrup-sweetened recipe has won the contest every year. It is not full of fat, like most pecan pies, so you can help yourself to a second or third guilt-free piece.
Of course, the key to a good recipe is the freshness and quality of ingredients. Pecans are harvested from September through December; there is nothing quite like the taste of a fresh pecan, toasted and dressed with maple syrup. This is Americana at its best.
On our most recent journey from Detroit to San Diego, Sara and I took the southern route down to Nashville and then west through Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. While we found the plant-based culinary options to be limited, we discovered a few treasures –one of them being freshly harvested pecans.
We first started seeing pecans in New Orleans and then found the organic and unshelled ones at Whole Foods in Austin. Our surprise discovery was just outside of Bowie, Arizona, between the New Mexico border and Tucson, where the climate is very dry. Local olives, honey, pistachios and pecans were being sold at a reinvented Stuckeys, just off the highway, with the unlikely name of Dwayne’s Fresh Jerky. Dwayne is a colorful character who described the local bounty with humor and warmth. He agreed with me that the freshness of pecans is paramount and can make the difference between a hum-drum recipe and a culinary all-star. It is even better when you have a direct connection with the farmer, adding an unspoken magic to the dish.
Maple Pecan Pie
2 ½ cups pecan halves
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread pecans evenly on a baking sheet and toast for 11 minutes. Remove and reserve.
1 cup unbleached wheat flour
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup blanched almond flour
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons maple syrup
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ plain soy milk or almond milk
In a food processor, pulse all crust ingredients until a dough-like consistency is formed, do not over mix. Hand form dough into a patty and place into a lightly oiled 9 inch glass pie dish. Gently press the dough evenly onto the bottom and sides of the dish. Crimp the edges for a decorative look, if desired.
1 ¼ cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon unsulphured molasses
¼ teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons arrowroot flour
3 tablespoons almond meal/flour
1 vanilla bean scraped or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
Using a food processor, grind 1 cup of the toasted pecans into a fine meal. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all filling ingredients and the pecan flour. Pour into pie shell and evenly place the remaining 1 ½ cups of toasted pecans on top. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove and cover with aluminum foil, shiny side up. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and allow to air cool before refrigerating for 8 hours. Serve cold or at room temperature.
-For this recipe, I use Bob’s Red Mill flours and almond meal.
-For a gluten-free recipe, use Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free baking flour instead of the wheat flours in the crust.