Late Winter: Perfect Pecan Pie

Earlier this week a cold rain forced me to be indoors for a day, so I used the time to finish up some late winter tasks. Tedious jobs like picking out pecans. And I mean local homegrown pecans. Six decades ago, my parents planted a small grove of pecan trees in their yard, which, over time created a shaded canopy around the house. Whether it was intentional or not, pecans became a big part of my upbringing. For as long as I can remember, the trees have produced a surplus of tasty nuts. To this day, my resilient mother, eighty something, continues to be the main force in retrieving the pecans off the ground. Thanks to her, I learned quickly that the secret to getting the nuts out of the shell is to first bring them to a full rolling boil on the stovetop before cracking them open with a hammer. I'm not certain this trick is well-known, but I like to think it does simplify the process. Of course, I didn't stop with just picking out the pecans. I made a pie, and while I personally have not always been a fan of pecan pie, it is my husband's favorite. And my father-in-law's favorite. So I make pecan pie for them. And what I didn't use in the pie went straight into the freezer for later use. What follows is my favorite recipe. Can't you just taste it? Here's to pecans and the almost end of winter. Cheers!

Perfect Pecan Pie

1 (9-inch) basic pastry crust, unbaked

1 1/2 cups dark corn syrup

3/4 cup sugar

3 large eggs

2 Tbsp. bourbon

2 Tbsp. butter, melted

2 tsp. all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1 3/4 cups pecans

Prepare basic pie pastry and set aside. In a large bowl combine dark corn syrup and next 7 ingredients; beat well, using a hand mixer, until combined. Place pecans in pastry crust; pour syrup mixture over top of pecans. Bake in a hot 350 degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until done. Remove pie from oven and cool completely on a wire rack before serving. Makes 1 pie. 


Meandering Along Hauser Creek: One Year Later

Hello December! We so appreciate the farm's open spaces and wooded hillside for hiking, and with everyone home recently for Thanksgiving my family and I took a walk through the woods and by the creek. Last December I posted an entry about the newly restored Hauser Creek that dissects the property. From a distance, it might look now as though things are pretty much the same along the Creek but a closer inspection reveals some subtle changes in the past year. Back in January, an extensive array of native plant life was installed within the conservation easement along both sides of the creek. Most of these plants were live stakes, dormant woody cuttings with branches removed. Originally no more than about 12 inches long, the stakes have grown a good 4 inches. Native species like ninebark, silky dogwood, elderberry, buttonbush, and black willow dot the streambanks. Recently, folks from N.C. Ecosystem Enhancement Program (NCEEP) came out to evaluate the plant life, and the good news is most of it appears to be thriving despite a large deer population. In time, all this plant life will form a canopy over the water, making Hauser Creek barely visible to us humans. The result will be cleaner water, a cleaner environment, and a safe haven for songbirds and wildlife.

One distinct difference between this year and last - the ephemeral pools located near the creek are dried up right now whereas last December they were water-logged. The accompanying photograph shows scenes at various times of the year: a dry, grassy ephemeral pool in November (left), native cardinal flower growing streamside in July (middle), and a happy heron enjoying the water in October (right). Our family outing in the woods the other day was the perfect ending for the year. The outdoor pipes have been drained, the buildings winterized, and the lavenders tucked in for the coming cold months. We wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas!

Seasonal Decorating: Wildly Beautiful for the Birds

This past weekend I fashioned a wreath using bittersweet from the woods and American beautyberry stems from the barnyard. If there was ever a shrub whose beauty is under appreciated the American beautyberry is it. During the year visitors to the farm will walk right by the beautyberry and say nary a word. Last weekend we had several guests, and it seemed the most talked about topic was the beautyberry bush. For most of the year, beautyberries sit inconspicuously in the landscape. We have six bushes at last count and my appreciation of them has only gotten better since they were planted. Around November, after the first good frost, the leaves begin to yellow and eventually fall off, leaving long graceful stems with tightly clustered purple berries. I've not seen bittersweet at the farm, but this time of year I keep my eyes trained on the woods where I run because I've learned that it grows therein. On one recent run I came back with some bittersweet in hand. Technically a vine, some would argue that bittersweet is harmful to trees and while that may be true, this time of year the vibrant orange berries are irresistible in floral arrangements and also loved by songbirds. I'm pretty pleased with how the wreath turned out. Of course, the colorful berries will be long gone in a matter of days if the birds get their way. And now that I think about it, the farm belongs to them, too. I think they'll enjoy the feast. Happy Thanksgiving!