Bite-Size Pies: Pecan Tassies Bring Down-Home Comfort
For those of you not familiar with pecan tassies, they are bite-size pecan pies. A guaranteed crowd-pleaser, they are perfect for holiday festivities and easy to prepare. We always have these on our Thanksgiving table. The pecans are freshly harvested and at their peak so they taste fantastic. And, after a big meal of turkey and dressing, one or two of these diminutive desserts are the perfect way to end the feast.
A “tassie” is defined as a small cup, and these petite pies are baked in a mini-muffin tin. Pecan tassies feature the flavors and textures of pecan pie — tender and buttery crust, crunchy pecans and brown-sugar filling — all in one delicious bite.
I grew up in south Georgia, home to pecans, peaches and peanuts. It’s the rural countryside and absolutely beautiful. In south Georgia there are pecans as far as the eye can see. I can guarantee I didn’t see a lick of that beauty when I was 16. I wanted to get far, far away from what I thought was pretty much the middle of nowhere.
I recently was driving through the area and contemplated the scenery. Windows cracked, the air whipped in as I slowed down from interstate driving to a more civilized pace. Relishing a cup of salty, earthy boiled peanuts, I negotiated the cracked asphalt through acres and acres, miles and miles of cotton. Alternating with the fields of cotton were pecan groves. The gray tree trunks stood solid as thin, bent and twisted branches reached toward the dusky sky. Butcher-red, dusty roads snaked between the fields and groves.
Growing up, we picked up pecans from the trees in the yard every fall. My grandfather had a nutcracker attached to a long board. He’d position it over a barrel and spend hours cracking our harvest. Later, my grandmother would patiently clean each and every pecan half with a pick and a soft-bristle brush. Then, we’d freeze them in sealable plastic bags.
It is my mission in life to teach people that pecans need to be kept in the freezer or refrigerator. It saddens me beyond measure that pretty much everyone outside of the South has only tasted rancid or near-rancid pecans that have languished on the grocery store produce shelf.
Pecans contain a high fat content, which means they are prone to spoilage, or rancidity, over time if not stored properly. At room temperature pecans will usually last only 20 days! Or, if kept in a sealed, airtight container, maybe 45 days! However, if kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator, pecans’ storage life increases dramatically, easily reaching nine to 10 months. The best way to extend their life is to store them in an airtight container in the freezer; they will last 18 months to two years. My practice is to buy pecans in the fall, when they are harvested, and store them in the freezer. That way I have fresh pecans for the entire year.
Get the Recipe: Pecan Tassies
As a child, I helped Mama make these tassies with the nuts my grandparents had cleaned. It was my job to help her coarsely grind the nuts. She still uses a hand-held grinder; it has a crank that forces the nuts through two opposing forklike blades and a glass jar to catch the nut pieces. The metal top that screws into the glass jar is bent and dinged, but the tool still coarsely cuts the nuts just right. These petite pies are a holiday staple and keep well in an airtight container for a week or so. To bring out their flavor after they’ve been in storage for a few days, simply pop them in a 350-degree F oven for a few minutes and they will taste freshly baked.
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.