Daily Dish
A bowl of linguine and 44 more great pasta recipes

Christmas dinner: Sharing a pecan pie across generations

"Where's the pie?" my grandmother-in-law would ask behind the screen door.

She was a little woman, close to 90 when we first met, feisty and hunched over with age and needing a walker. She'd ask the same thing every time I showed up on her front porch — the extent of her greeting — rather severe as she squinted and looked me over. She wouldn't open the door until I produced the pecan pie.

I couldn't tell whether she was serious or simply having a private joke at my expense. But it was the same every time.

I loved that woman. We would sit at her table over a slice of pie and a dollop of whipped cream to talk about cooking. Thelma Bowman was a professional cook back in the day — a working woman when many women stayed at home, and she ran the cafeteria at a public elementary school for years. We'd talk favorite recipes and working in various kitchens during her long career. After I switched my own career and decided to go to culinary school, she was one of my biggest mentors.

She loved my pecan pie, a special recipe I'd learned from my mother. When she passed, she left me a lifetime's worth of her cherished recipes, stored in a yellow Bakelite box.

The pie is simple enough. I whisk together some eggs and egg yolks — the yolks give the custard filling extra richness — and add some dark corn syrup and dark brown sugar, whisked in along with melted butter. I always add a touch of bourbon — the liquor enhances the flavors and gives the filling a little extra personality. Then I finish with pecans.

The filling is poured into a homemade pie shell and baked until done.

I make the pie now for my father-in-law every Christmas. Because my in-laws can no longer cook, I make the dinners and desserts whenever we come to visit (their own personal chef, they like to brag to all their friends). My father-in-law always looks forward to the pecan pie.

We'll have a slice with a dollop of whipped cream, as we talk and share family stories. Because stories are what keep history alive. Every bite I take, I think of my mother and my family, the family I've joined and Thelma. That is Christmas to me.


Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Posole, the taste of Christmas in New Mexico

    Posole, the taste of Christmas in New Mexico

    My family has lived in Southern California for more than 25 years now, but at the holidays we still seem to think of ourselves as transplanted New Mexicans. We string red chile lights, bake anise-flavored biscochito cookies, put out the candle-lit paper bags called luminarias and, most notably,...

  • Tidings of comfort and latkes

    Tidings of comfort and latkes

    What am I cooking for Christmas dinner? Well a goose, of course, a fine, fat one, cooked in the Barbara Kafka way that involves high heat and an hour of resting in the cooling oven; and my mom's sweet-and-sour red cabbage; and blanched Brussels sprouts finished in hot fat. There will be no foie...

  • The best panforte in the world

    The best panforte in the world

    Panforte — Italian for 'strong bread' — is really more of a confection, heavy with preserved fruit and honey, nuts and spices. It's fantastic with cheese and wine or as a dessert.

  • Christmas dinner: Get your goose

    Christmas dinner: Get your goose

    S. Irene Virbila likes to roast a goose for Christmas dinner.

  • The gift of Christmas dinner

    The gift of Christmas dinner

    Christmas dinner is a meal with plenty of tradition, but it's not as hidebound as Thanksgiving. It's more a matter of choice than obligation. We tend to serve the same dishes year after year, but it's because we want to — because we love them and feel like celebrating when they're on the table.

  • Ben Simon targets waste with new Imperfect Produce project

    Ben Simon targets waste with new Imperfect Produce project

    About 6 billion pounds of produce is wasted each year in the United States simply because of appearance, according to Ben Simon. As a student at the University of Maryland, Simon co-founded the Food Recovery Network (FRN), the largest student-run waste-prevention movement. He sat down to chat about...

  • Tackling global issues by targeting food waste

    Tackling global issues by targeting food waste

    What's the point of worrying about organic food, genetically modified organisms, locally sourced items and fair trade if more than a third of it will simply go to waste? Discarded food is a serious issue, and it's garnering attention from a variety of places. Statistics are stunning: Approximately...

  • In Europe, little refrigerators hold a grand reason for less waste

    In Europe, little refrigerators hold a grand reason for less waste

    Years ago, when I first started traveling to Europe and was welcomed inside people's homes I was astonished by the extreme simplicity of the kitchens I saw.