Pecan Pie Recipe, With a Bit of Serendipity

800px-Pecan_pie_(8030810481)[1]I recently found a pecan pie recipe online which was a little lighter than the classic Karo syrup recipe.  I made it a couple of times, then I began changing it up a bit.  The first time I added more pecans–I’m sorry, 1/2 cup is not enough for any respectable pie.  Then I went to bake it, found I was short on maple syrup and dark corn syrup (Karo), and had to improvise.  The changed-up recipe is a new favorite! 

I’ll give you both the basic and supercharged versions.  The basic version is still plenty sweet, but is lighter and has a faint maple flavor.  The supercharged gets depth from a little molasses and is mellowed by the blend of corn syrups.  Using an egg white gives a lighter texture to both versions.  My friends say the little-bit-of-molasses version brings out the flavor of the pecans and goes well with a sip of brandy.  I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Pecan Pie, Two Versions

9 inch pie shell, or your favorite bottom-only crust, unbaked

1 cup dark corn syrup and 1/4 cup maple syrup, OR 3/4 cup dark corn syrup, 1/4 cup light corn syrup, 1/8 cup maple syrup and 1/8 cup molasses (not black strap)

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 large egg white

1 cup chopped pecans

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place the syrups and ingredients through egg white in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended.  Stir in pecans and vanilla.  Pour into prepared crust.  Bake at 350 degrees until center is puffed and edges are brown, about 50 minutes.  I usually cover the edges of the crust with foil at the 30-minute point to keep them from browning too much.  Cool on a wire rack.

Not Quite a Recipe: Cornbread and Biscuit Dressing

Photo from
Photo from

I wanted this to be a recipe but realized I don’t have any quantities, so this is more a description of a recipe, or a memory.  My mother made the best cornbread dressing ever.  She did not believe in stuffing a turkey or chicken, feeling that the stuffing took much longer to cook and that it was unlikely to get done and be safe to eat.  I know a lot of people are fond of stuffing, but not my family!  So the way we always had it was baked separately in a pan, after the turkey was done and was resting.

Here’s what I recall went in it:

1 skillet cornbread (homemade), crumbled

1 pan biscuits (either homemade or canned), crumbled

1 or 2 onions


boiled eggs, chopped, I think about 4



poultry seasoning

sage (just a little, she did not like too strong a sage flavor)

some juice from the cooked bird to stick it all together and make it soft

maybe a little bacon grease or melted butter to give flavor (margarine, in those days)

All this was mixed up in a huge bowl.  Then she spread it on a baking sheet with sides or another roasting pan, and baked it in the oven, I think at 350 degrees, until browned. 

Mother also made gravy to pour over it, from the pan drippings, the giblets and neck (which she sauteed and chopped), more onion, celery, butter, salt and pepper.

I was always pleased when we had chicken and dressing, and the dressing was my favorite part of Thanksgiving.  We always ate it until we felt sick the next day, because Mother insisted on throwing out the leftover dressing after Friday.  She thought it wasn’t safe to keep because of the eggs.

So I’m remembering my mother, and wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!  I’m grateful for my family, my friends, my cat and all my other blessings.

Summer Tomato Salad

429px-Tomatoes-on-the-bush[1]Now that summer is winding down, tomatoes are at their best.  I am grateful to my friend who has shared her homegrown tomatoes with me!  Here is a recipe for tomato salad, with a couple of variations, to take advantage of them at their juiciest and ripest.

The salad will have the best flavor if you use a mix of different kinds–heirloom tomatoes preferred, and include yellow ones, striped ones, and cherry or grape tomatoes.  This recipe was inspired by Jamie Oliver’s “Mothership Tomato Salad,” but I changed it a bit.  His calls for dried oregano, which I’m not crazy about, and a fresh red chile.  I use fresh basil instead, and no chile.  Feel free to experiment!  The cucumber is optional.  I’ve made it with and without; both versions have their virtues.

Enjoy the end of summer…..

Summer Tomato Salad

2 1/4 lbs. mixed ripe tomatoes, different shapes and colors, or less than 2 lbs. tomatoes and 1 cucumber

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Several leaves of fresh basil, to taste

Red wine or balsamic vinegar

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, peeled and grated (or use the minced in oil kind, which comes bottled)

Slice up the tomatoes, some in chunks, some in quarters, and some in half if they are small like cherry tomatoes.  Put them in a colander and season with a good pinch of sea salt.  Give them a toss, season again with sea salt, and toss again.  The salt won’t be drawn into the tomatoes, so don’t worry that the salad will be too salty!

Let the tomatoes sit in the colander for 15 minutes and throw away any juice that drains out.  Transfer the tomatoes to a large bowl.  If you’re adding a cucumber, cut it in thin slices or small chunks and toss in with the tomatoes.  Cut up the basil into strips (kitchen scissors are good for this) and add to the bowl.  Toss all this a bit.

Make a vinaigrette of 1 part vinegar to 2 parts oil and the garlic.  Add the dressing and toss lightly to coat the salad.  Add fresh ground black pepper to taste.

This would be terrific with some mozzarella or some rustic bread.


Country Ham for Easter

Smokehouse in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Smokehouse in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I have been hunting for a recipe for this, through all my white trash cookbooks.  I have not found a thing, not in the Cracker Barrel cookbooks, or Miss Daisy Celebrates Tennessee, or even my mother’s Sunday School class cookbook from the ’80s.  So I will try to remember what I saw, and write it down for you.

Pap, Daddy’s father, loved country ham, and he liked it boiled.  So that’s what Mother did for Easter.  The ham had been cured by storing it in a salt pack (buried in salt in a bin) and then it was smoked in the smokehouse for several days.  All this was done in the fall after the frost came, and in the early winter.

The ham was left to hang in the smokehouse and dry until wanted.  You could also put it back in the salt, as I recall, but I couldn’t swear to that.

When it was time to consider cooking it, Mother took it out and plunged a knife close to the bone, bringing it out to smell.  This is how she could tell if the ham was good or had spoiled.  If it smelled good, then she went to the next stage.

The country ham was soaked in a lard can full of water for a couple of hours, to get some of the salt out of it.  When that was over, Mother built a fire in the back yard.  The ham went back into a clean lard can which was filled with water up to a few inches from the rim.  She put the lid on, and hefted the heavy load onto the fire.  The ham cooked in the lard can for up to four hours.  I’m not sure how she decided when to take it off the fire.

When she removed it, she immediately wrapped the can in quilts and left it.  The ham continued cooking for some hours.

End result?  Sweet, moist, smoky country ham, not salty, very tender.

The New York Times article today made me remember this process!  Thanks to them for helping me recall how you cook a real country ham!

P.S.  Pap loved this.  He said Mother cooked the best ham he ever had.

Recipe: Gingerbread with Sorghum Molasses

Sorghum Molasses Pie

When I was a child we waited in anticipation every fall for sorghum molasses to come on the market.  Mother and Daddy were convinced the only appropriate sorghum molasses came from Benton County, Tennessee.  Even then, one had to read the label closely to make sure corn syrup had not been added.

Sorghum is a grain.  To make molasses, the canes are ground in a mill and the juice runs out.  In the old days, a mule walked around and around in a circle to make the mill turn.  The juice is cooked, not unlike maple syrup, and the byproducts skimmed off the top.  Sorghum-making is a skilled craft.  The byproducts used to be put in cattle feed.

But we wanted sorghum for two purposes:  Daddy ate it with hot biscuits and butter, and I made gingerbread.  How to explain how sorghum tastes?  It’s lighter and wilder than the only acceptable substitute, Brer Rabbit Molasses.  Dark Karo syrup is your syrup of last resort, too sweet, and it doesn’t have that wildflower/grain taste that sorghum does.  But these are dark times we’re living in, so we do the best we can.

Here is Mother’s gingerbread recipe with sorghum molasses.  Substitute as you must….

Ginger Bread

1 cup sorghum molasses

4 tablespoons shortening (butter or Crisco)

1 cup buttermilk

Mix together the above.

Sift together dry ingredients:

2 1/2 cups flour

2 teaspoons ginger (the dry powder, for you foodies who peel the root)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda

Mix dry and wet ingredients together.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes.

Recipe: School Night Chili With Beans

This recipe is so easy you can even make it on a school night.  This is my go-to, make-a-pot-and-freeze-in-portions chili, which makes it great for 4-6 people or for one or two.  If you like it spicy, use hot chili powder or seasoning mix.  If you like it mild, use regular chili powder, and you can cut the seasoning to 1 tablespoon, but I think it’s too bland, myself, if you do that.  Nothing better than a bowl of hot chili as the nights get cooler!

School Night Chili With Beans

1 lb. (or slightly more) ground beef or turkey ( I do NOT recommend ground chicken)

1 can black beans (15 to 16 oz.), drained

1 can red kidney beans (15 to 16 oz.), drained

1 can diced tomatoes or whole tomatoes (16 oz.)

Optional:  1 small can whole kernel corn, drained

2 tablespoons chili powder, or packet of chili seasoning of your choice

Brown the ground meat in a large skillet.  Drain off any grease or water.  Add the seasoning to coat the meat lightly.  Add the beans and tomatoes (and corn if you are doing that), stir well, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cover, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Ready to serve.  Can serve with shredded cheese if you like, or over spaghetti, or both.  I’m a purist, I just eat it plain.  Serves 4-6, depending on how hungry they are.

Recipe: Corn Pudding, from Mother’s Sunday School Class

I was feeling a bit down today, and decided to cook a bit in an attempt to cheer myself up.  Not too much, mind you–cooking, I mean!  So right now I have yellow squash and onions simmering in a pot, “cooking down” with a little water, salt, pepper and a bit of butter.  I’ll let it cook until it’s pretty limp or I’m ready for dinner, whichever comes first.

The smell of squash and onions cooking always reminds me of my mother and summertime on the farm.  By this time of year we were inundated with squash and tomatoes, but there was never too much corn.  I dug out Mother’s Sunday school class cookbook, looking for recipe inspiration.   The cookbook was a fundraiser for the class; there are companies that still produce these today.  Mother wrote inside the front cover, “For Connie, 1990.”

The recipes are not “authentic southern cooking” at all.  These ladies were in their 60s and 70s then, and to them, fried chicken and homegrown vegetables were not “company” dishes.  So many of the recipes call for Campbell’s soup, Jello, cream cheese, cake mix, and other convenience foods.  I understand their point of view–when you were cooking three meals a day, every day, convenience was a wonderful thing!  And you know what?  It still is.

However, I was relieved to see that Mother’s contribution did not involve any of those, or even “oleo” as some of the recipes called it.  Here is her corn pudding recipe, which I suspect she got from my sister Glenda.  I don’t remember having this as a child, but it does sound good!

Corn Pudding

2 cups fresh corn, cut from the cob

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 to 3 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

2 cups milk

2 eggs, beaten

2 tbsp. butter or margarine

Combine corn, flour, sugar and salt.  Stir well.  Combine remaining ingredients in another bowl, mixing well.  Stir into corn mixture.  Pour into lightly greased 1 1/2 quart casserole.  Bake at 350 degrees for one hour, stiring twice during first 30 minutes.  Yields 6 to 8 servings.

Fronie Jones

Recipe: Spiced Lentil Soup

Now that we’re back to cooler spring temperatures (although still above normal), I decided to make a pot of this soup today.  This recipe comes from an old Prevention magazine Slow Cooker Meals cookbook.  I have had it for a long time, but had not tried this recipe until this winter.

If you like Indian food, you will love it.  If not, stay away–it is very spicy!  To me, that’s a virtue, especially when my nose is running and my ears are stuffed up from all this early and abundant pollen.  Another great thing about it is it can cook all day on low, so it’s safe to leave in the slow cooker even if you have a lengthy commute.  The recipe says it makes 4 servings, but I think it makes considerably more than that.  I tend to freeze it in 2-cup containers for nights when I don’t feel like cooking or days when I want to take something microwaveable for lunch.

Spiced Lentil Soup

1 cup lentils, rinsed

1 can (28 oz.) stewed tomatoes, undrained

2 medium potatoes, diced

2 medium carrots, sliced

1 medium onion, chopped

1 rib celery, sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 bay leaves

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

3 Tablespoons curry powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander (in Asian groceries; if you can’t find, it’s ok without)

4 cups low-fat, low sodium chicken or vegetable broth

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker.  Cover.  Cook on low 8 to 10 hours or on high 4 to 5 hours, or until lentils are tender.  Remove bay leaves before serving.

Makes 4 servings, per serving 260 calories, 14 g protein, 51 g carbs, 15 g fiber, 930 mg so

Recipe: Original Red Velvet Cake

Red velvet cake was not part of my holiday tradition in middle Tennessee.  My mother made blackberry jam cake every year, and I’d never heard of red velvet cake until Ron made it for my Christmas party here in New York.  After he died, Linda graciously assumed the mantle and has made red velvet cake every year since for the party.

It’s really a chocolate pound cake with cream cheese frosting.  What makes it red is a ton of food coloring.  Linda has tried everything from beet juice to all-natural coloring, but nothing gets that lurid red except regular food coloring.  If the thought of Red Food Dye #whatever bothers you, just use one bottle instead of two.

This recipe is a little retro–I think it dates from the ’60s if not earlier.  Now that red velvet cake and cupcakes are popular, I’m sure there are many variations.  But this is the one I know and love.  Happy Christmas from me, and a shout-out to the memory of Ron.

Red Velvet Pound Cake

3 cups cake flour

1/2 cup cocoa

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Sift together the dry ingredients.

Then mix:

3 cups sugar

5 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 1-ounce bottles of red food coloring

1/2 cup Crisco

1/2 lb. butter

1 cup milk

Mix the dry ingredients into the wet mixture.  Bake in a tube pan 1 1/2 hours at 300 degrees.


1 8 oz. package cream cheese

1 box powdered sugar

1 stick butter

1 cup pecans (small pieces)

2 tablespoons vanilla

P.S.  I got the photo from Wikimedia for a “Southern red velvet cake.”  I never think to take a picture of Linda’s–too busy eating!

Recipe: Mother’s Cornbread

My  mother’s favorite cornbread recipe was not the traditional one she grew up with.  That one used only cornmeal, probably like a johnny cake, with bacon grease, salt and boiling water.  It was the cheapest type of food.  Mama, Mother’s mother, would make this kind of cornbread to feed the hounds when there weren’t enough table scraps.  When times were better the recipe incorporated an egg.  Here is a recipe for that type, credited to Alison Krauss, from the Martha White website:

What follows is the recipe written in Mother’s handwriting, labeled “one I use.”  It’s my favorite too, if not for purists, or for us lazy slobs who use cornbread mix (Martha White might quarrel with me there).

Mother’s Cornbread

1 cup sifted flour

1 cup cornmeal (yellow preferred, but white is ok)

1 to 2 tablespoons sugar (your preference)

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs well beaten

1 cup milk

1/4 cup corn oil (or canola would work)

Sift dry ingredients together.  Add egg, milk and corn oil.  Bake in an iron skillet in a 425 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

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