510 Pecan Pie Baking Tests Later...
Why 510 pie baking tests? Our tradition of baking "Blue Ribbon Good" pecan pies for sale to the public began in 1987. Much like prize-winning pies you've tasted as Blue Ribbon winners at your local County Fair, our family recipe has a long history. Since the 1940's, our family has been known as popular local candy makers. Baking our famous family desserts was a challenge, however. There was no oven large enough for us to successfully experiment. In the 1980's, a lucky break came from an old local schoolhouse oven.
Thomas Ellis, Priester's co-owner, "We got ourselves a used oven and started. We asked everybody in the county for their pecan pie recipes. Turned out it was my mother's recipe that was the best. That's how our pie got started."
Everyone involved in the pie baking project voted the best recipe they knew of was from Mother May. Not only was May's pecan pie a great looking pie, it tastes absolutely delicious. And most important, this is a pie that can be shipped; it stays firm, fresh and intact upon arrival at your doorstep.
Why did it take a grueling 510 pie baking tests to create the perfect pecan pie recipe ? That's dedication! As our story goes, some pies were too runny and would arrive a sloppy mess after shipping. Other pies ended up too dark in color and were unappealing in appearance. After all, a perfect pecan pie has to look good, too.
"From Priester's you get a very homemade look, and filling is just so much better than you'll get from home, in most cases. Unless you get it just right, your filling will run all over the plate when you make it at home and serve it," Thomas said. "We find our customers are happier with a pie that cuts well and looks nice on the plate, so the hostess can be proud of what she's serving."
Jewel, a local cook working for us helped by getting Mother May's pie recipe on paper. Mother cooked by standing over her fixings adding a pinch of this, a dash of that. "It's still a handmade operation, but maybe a little more precise than Mom used to make. She just did it all by hand, and by touch," said Ellen Ellis Burkett. "A little bit of this, and a little bit more of that, and you know, it comes out perfect! Well, I'm 48 and she's been making those pecan pies for over 50 years."
After many tests, our family settled on a light-colored corn syrup to provide the perfect sweetness, flavor, texture, and smoothness. And, it gave the pie a lighter taste and delightful color.
"A pie has corn syrup or sugar, depending on your recipe. You need the corn syrup to get the proper texture. We prefer a light colored corn syrup, it's prettier and smoother. The dark corn syrup has a heavier taste. It's a matter of preference." said Thomas.
Then there's the crust. You can't have a good pie without a good crust. By creating a crust from scratch, as opposed to using a pre-baked pie crust, the pie won't develop cracks or run. The secret is that Priester's allows our pie crusts to "breathe" for 24 hours before baking. This way, we create a pie that won't slop all over your plate upon cutting. This is a pecan pie that will arrive at your dinner table intact, ready to be sliced and served.
"We use an unbaked pie crust, as opposed to a pre-cooked one, because the pie cooks so long. It's all about the bake time, temperature to get it right. You want a firm filling, and it has to be eye-appealing. We've got that, and we've got the taste, too!" said Thomas. "The goal for your pecan pie is for it to be eye-appealing, and still taste good...That's why we went through 510 test pies, let me tell you!"
"One of the things is that you make the crust to get it right," adds Mother May. "That and all the ingredients, even though few and simple, and then get it in the oven for the time it needs to cook. Let me tell you, it's easier in the long-run just to buy your pecan pie ."
Naturally, we use the best pecans for our pies. The pecan in a pecan pie is the most important element to a good pie. We prefer to use heavy-meated pecans for our pies. We've found that large pieces feel better in your mouth when you bite into them.
Thomas said, "You want to start with heavy-meated pecans. In a grocery store you might find a good heavy-meated pecans. Or find a company that specializes in nut meats, like us. Now, eggs are eggs. But the pecans should be extremely selective and will have a big impact on the outcome of your pie. If you're buying your own pecans locally, I suggest you look for medium sized pecan pieces. Ideally, you'll use the large pecan pieces."
Our goal was a lofty one. We wanted a pecan pie with a firm filling, one that's eye-appealing, and of course, "Tastes utterly to die for." That's why our family and friends endured an astonishing 510 pie tests to get the perfect pecan pie. That's why we call it "Blue Ribbon Good." After that many baking experiments, perhaps we should call it, "Blue Ribbon Best!"
Today, each batch of our pecan pie filling is lovingly hand crafted. Each hand-selected, freshly hulled pecan piece is placed in its pie crust by hand. The pie filling is then carefully layered, also entirely by hand. A Priester's pecan pie is, because of this dedication to perfection, is a home made pie.
Imagine the compliments you'll receive when your guests bite into their first Priester's Pecan Pie ? As Ellen said, "Utterly to die for," indeed!