The Great Flour Expedition, and Pecan Pie

Coming home from our day with Fred’s family on Christmas, Fred and I decided to stop at a convenience store on the way back from Covington, GA, to pick up some flour. The goal was to make the pecan pie he loved so much at my mother’s, and which had disappeared all too quickly. Flour was the only ingredient we lacked. We even had Karo syrup, which I hope never goes bad, since this particular bottle has been on my shelf since before I married Fred.

At our first stop, I trotted to the back of the store where a lone bag of flour sat next to several bags of sugar, a few containers of salt, and charcoal. The price was alarmingly absent. Still, I picked it up, but was brought up short when I noticed it was open.

Being the good citizen that I am, I took the open bag up to the counter and set it in front of the clerk, who was probably also the owner. He was an Indian version of Mr. Rogers: kind-eyed, gray-haired, just beginning to go gray, wearing a light blue sweater vest and sensible shoes.

I chirped up in my best good citizen voice, “I was going to buy this, but it was open.”

The owner looked bewildered. “You take?” he asked.

I tried again. “No, I’m sorry, it’s been opened.”

He looked kindly at me, as you might at a mentally deficient child, and nodded. He took up the bag from the counter, carefully folded the top back down, lifted it up, carried it to the back of the store, and returned it to its place on the shelf.

Stunned, I considered spluttering out something about bugs, or crazy people with arsenic, or terrorists with powdery substances that might react mysteriously with an open bag of flour. But realizing the owner would only wonder why the odd lady who brought a perfectly good bag of flour to the counter for no apparent reason was babbling on about bugs and terrorists, I thought better of it and left.

Our quest continued, through two Shell stations (one with no flour at all, the other with only self-rising, which I feared would fluff the pie crust to twice the required size); an Exxon station that stocked only chips and beer; a CVS pharmacy that had sliced pineapple, the ubiquitous sugar, and honey, but didn’t even carry flour at all; and a few other places I can’t remember.

We finally despaired of finding any flour in Covington and got back on I-20 towards the ATL. We took our exit at Candler Road and stopped at the first convenience store we saw. I steeled myself against the hungry eyes of the hollow-cheeked, crazy-haired meth/crack addicts standing outside, one of whom kindly wished me “Merry Christmas” and opened the door, and dashed in.

In a back corner, next to some graham crackers, sugar (of course), and only a few shelves away from the motor oil, I found it: a bag of all-purpose White Lily. Not the ideal pie flour, of course, but better than nothing.

One of the addicts opened the door for me on my way out. “Spare some change?” he chimed hopefully. Not wanting the store owner to shoot me for encouraging these guys to lurk outside his shop, I shook my head and zoomed past him, keeping my head down, as I got into the car.

About a block away, the Piggly Wiggly was open. I like to think they were out of flour.

Naturally, it was two more days before I made the actual pie.

Out of curiosity, I compared my mom’s recipe against Cook’s Illustrated’s so-called “Perfect Pecan Pie” to see how it stacked up. I am getting a little tired of CI’s claims to “perfection,” but I can’t help myself–I am a good citizen, and I like getting the teacher’s approval. In this case, my mom’s recipe has a lot of similarities to CI’s–lower on sugar the typical version, with more pecans, which are chopped and mixed in with the filling rather than floating on top. Your typical Southerner may not appreciate it for those reasons, but it’s what our family loves.

I confess I veered away from my mother’s pie crust recipe, which is basically the same as the one on the back of the Crisco can, and ventured into a butter crust for this pie. This was because our Crisco had gone rancid, and I had to make something up. Fortunately it was spectacular–crispy and buttery, with just enough flake–and so I’ll share that recipe here too.

Pecan Pie

Crust (makes 2 single crust or 1 double crust):

1. Put a coffee cup filled with ice water in the fridge.

2. Stir or whisk together, if your whisk is not in another city:

2 cups plain flour (I had to use coffee cups and guesstimate)
1/2 t salt (again, guesstimated using the palm of my hand)
1 -2 tbsp. sugar (or however much you get when you dip three fingers and your thumb into the sugar bowl and scoop it out)

3. Cut in 12 tbsp. butter, cut into 1/4″ pieces. With no pastry cutter or food processor handy, I used the French method of pinching and rubbing the butter and flour with the ends of my fingers until it resembled cornmeal with some large pea-sized lumps of butter in it. I’m now wondering if I’ve underutilized this technique.

4. Remove ice water from fridge and add to flour mix. This is the trickiest part of a pie crust, and there are multiple techniques. The key is to mix as little as possible. For this crust I used what I call the flip technique, although I have no idea if this is the technical name or not. I sprinkled about 4 tablespoons of water over the flour, then flipped upward through the mix rapidly with a fork until it began to come together. I kept adding water, a couple of tablespoons at a time, until the dough came together in fairly large chunks.

4. Gather dough together and form into a ball. Separate into two separate balls, put in plastic bags, and refrigerate at least an hour before rolling out.

5. Before mixing pie ingredients, roll out crust into a 9″ pie plate. Prick bottom and sides with a fork (or cover bottom with aluminum foil and pie weights or beans). Finish edges and return to refrigerator.

Pie:

Pre-heat oven to 425. Mix together:

1/2 c. dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 eggs
1/3 c. melted butter
1 c. dark corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. coarsely chopped pecans

Remove pie shell from refrigerator and bake for 5 minutes. Remove from oven. Reduce heat to 350. Add pecan filling to shell and return to oven. Bake for 45 minutes or until filling bubbles slightly around the edges. Let cool completely before serving. Top with whipped cream, if desirec.

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