Yes, We Have an Aunt Bea (recipe: Classic Southern Pecan Pie)
One of our favorite things to watch on television are the black and white Andy Griffith shows with Andy, Barney, Opie and Aunt Bea that take place in the mythical town called Mayberry. The show focuses on strong family values, love of country and God and Southern culture. Both my husband and I have been fortunate to spend a lot of time in real life Mayberrys. For me, Mayberry was Geneva, AL, the town where my parents grew up and both sets of grandparents lived. Mayberry for my husband was Carolina Community in Andalusia, AL where his father grew up in the house portrayed in the painting below. My sister-in-law, Vicki Garvin, photographed the painting and made copies for us. The old house was destroyed by fire several years ago.
My father-in-law, Mark Garvin, was one of 10 children born to Holly and Ruby Garvin. The family farmed and knew all the hardships that befell poor farming families in the rural South.
By the time I came around, Granddaddy Garvin (Holly) had died and Granny Garvin (Ruby) had dementia. Granny still lived in the house where she raised her family but she needed constant care which was lovingly provided by her youngest daughter, Beatrice, known as Bea. Aunt Bea’s a main character in the Garvin family just as Aunt Bea of Mayberry was in the Andy Griffith show.
Aunt Bea was typical of her generation. She had tireless energy and wasn’t the least bit afraid of hard work. She was an excellent cook and her dinner table would be filled with dishes that were typical of good ol’ fashioned Southern cooking. She was warm and welcoming and if you came in her house, she wanted to feed you.
I loved having conversations with her. She was always interested in everything you were doing. She and I would talk a lot about cooking and our favorite new recipes. It wasn’t hard to get her talking about stories of old. Coming from a large family, she never ran out of stories to tell. She kept track of all her nieces and nephews just as she did her siblings. In some regards, she became the family historian.
She was famous for her pecan pie. She would gather pecans from the pecan trees on the Garvin homestead. When I started collecting family recipes, numerous people reminded me to be sure and get Aunt Bea’s Pecan Pie recipe. Once you had Aunt Bea’s pie, it became your favorite. It sure made an impression on my husband. He’s talked about Bea’s pecan pie for as long as I’ve known him.
Aunt Bea has made her last pecan pie. Well into her seventies, she’s now dealing with her own dementia just as she dealt with her mother’s. Instead of her being the caretaker, she’s being cared for. Sometimes she recognizes people she’s known all her life. Sometimes she doesn’t. Time has stripped the life out of this once vibrant woman. She’s left her thumbprint on every person who’s ever had a slice of her pecan pie. And that’s a whole lot of people. We love you, Aunt Bea. We always will.
Y’all come see us!
Classic Southern Pecan Pie
Bea would divide the filling between two pie shells probably just trying to stretch it out as far she could. I’m sure that’s the way Granny Garvin made them, too. She would cook her pies on 275 degrees “for an hour or so”. I raised the temperature to 300 degrees to compensate for the larger amount of filling in the single pie. I sort of followed her instructions to “put the pie on the top rack”. I placed the rack higher than the center of the oven but didn’t go all the way to the top. I think my racks go higher than hers did. Her recipe didn’t indicate that the butter should be melted. I made that assumption. Given that I used unsalted butter, I added a pinch of salt. I increased the amount of pecans from 1 1/4 cup to 1 1/2 cups.
The filling in this pie maintains a lot of its syrupy character. That’s what appeals to my husband. He says he prefers Aunt Bea’s syrupy pecan pie to cakey pecan pies.
I prefer to chop the pecans instead of keeping the halves in whole pieces. I think the chopped pieces have more of a tendency to mix in the filling and are better distributed. Some believe you should throw the pecan pieces in the pie shell and top them with the filling. I think mixing them all together is just fine.
To experience this pie in its original form and the way it was made to stretch and feed as many folks as possible, decrease the amount of pecans to 1 1/4 cup and divide the filling between two pie shells. My daughter, Amy, has taken on the responsibility of making Aunt Bea’s Pecan Pies for all our family gatherings. She always makes them just as Aunt Bea did. I can’t look at those pies without thinking of Aunt Bea in her glory days. They also make me think about how these pies were used to feed lots of people when food was probably scarce.
1 pie shell (unbaked)
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup Karo syrup
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt (omit if using salted butter)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
Stir sugar, Karo, eggs, vanilla, salt and butter until mixed well.
Add pecans and stir. Pour into unbaked 9 inch pie shell.
Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour or until the center is set. It took 70 minutes for me this time. The center can be a little jiggly. You don’t want it be sloshy. Remove from oven and let cool completely before slicing.
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