My neighbor Jane is our family’s honorary third grandmother. When my wife and I feel overwhelmed by our jobs and our domestic responsibilities, she takes in our six-year-old daughter, teaching her to make paper dolls, offering help with her Spanish homework, and treating her to ice cream and candy.
Jane attended the University of Texas at Austin in the forties, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in literature; her focus as a graduate student was Byron. But she grew up in Eldorado, outside San Angelo, during the Depression. “You couldn’t go to the grocery store, so we would eat only fruits and vegetables from the area,” she recalls. In the fall, that meant pecans. “It used to be that everyone had at least one pecan tree in their yard. We’d gather pecans and use a hammer or some other crude instrument to crack them.”
Though the neighbors used the nuts for candy and cookies and pie, Jane’s mother, Adele, mostly stuffed them inside fruit. “My mother had very definite ideas about what children should eat,” Jane says. “She thought we should eat very little sugar. So we were not given candy. And we were not allowed to drink soda pop. Our desserts were always fruit of some kind, or dried fruit—dates and raisins, things like that. We just thought that was awful.”
But Jane’s father, Herbert, loved pecan pie, and he eventually persuaded his wife to bake it for him. Her first effort wasn’t very good—she used almost no sugar—but she kept at it, adding a bit more sweetening each time, until she arrived at the recipe Jane uses to this day. Unlike a typical pecan pie, which literally oozes corn syrup, as if the pecans and the crust were just a delivery system for the Karo, Jane’s version is crunchy and chewy, almost closer to a brittle. Every fall she makes them in batches of three and gives us one, though we could easily take all three and make quick work of them. Our pie never lasts long enough to need to be stored in the refrigerator.
“My father liked it too,” Jane says. “He liked almost everything my mother made. Though he would say, ‘Perhaps a little more sugar?’ ”
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup light Karo syrup
1/3 cup dark Karo syrup
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups whole pecans (or half or quarter pieces, but not the chopped kind)
9-inch deep-dish pie crust
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat eggs, then stir in sugar, light and dark syrups, butter, and vanilla. Mix well. Add 2 cups pecans and mix well again. Pour mixture into crust. Take a look at the mixture; you will see gaps with no pecans. Use as many of the remaining pecans to fill these gaps as needed. Bake for about an hour. Allow to cool. Serves 6 to 8.