From pecan to pumpkin to sweet potato, Southern chefs didn’t invent these decadent baked goods, but they certainly added distinctive twists.
By Amber Lanier Nagle
Across the country, people crave the indulgent baked dishes of sweet or savory ingredients wrapped in firm, flaky crusts. Southerners are no exception, and are even credited with inventing some pies, like classic pecan. This is partly due to the region’s long, sunny growing seasons, which result in bounties of fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts that offer plenty of inspiration for delicious holiday baking projects.
The mere mention of the word “pie” conjures up images of grandmothers rolling out doughy concoctions of flour, water, salt and Crisco on kitchen counters, and families gathered around dining tables to savor the end result. “I think, when you bite into a piece of pie, it takes you home again,” says Ashley Cardona, executive pastry chef at Sea Island. “Pie helps us celebrate special occasions, welcome new neighbors and mourn the loss of loved ones.”
Pie, in general, reigns supreme as an all-American favorite, though the American Pie Council points out that its origins stretch back to ancient Greece and Rome, where pies were predominantly stuffed with meats. In the early 1600s, English settlers brought a few pie recipes to the New World. “And Americans made it their own,” Cardona says. “I mean, what’s more American than apple pie?”
Whether sweet or savory, the foundations of an unforgettable pie are a great recipe and fresh seasonal ingredients. Pecan pie, available at The Market at Sea Island, is a prime example of a recipe developed from ingredients Southerners had on hand each autumn. Native to North America and primarily grown in Southern climates, pecans are harvested just in time to be baked into Thanksgiving pies.
Texas, Louisiana and Alabama all claim to be the true birthplace of the pecan pie. While the jury’s still out, one thing we do know is that, in the 1920s, Karo syrup began printing a pecan pie recipe on its label, which led to a sudden rise in the pie’s popularity.
“We use a very traditional recipe offering a delicious ratio of fresh nuts and custard,” Cardona says. “We use lots of fresh, Georgia pecans in our recipe—that’s the real secret to Sea Island’s pecan pie.”
Pumpkin pie is another showstopper synonymous with Thanksgiving. Many people eat a slice every year on the fourth Thursday of November to commemorate the harvest meal shared by the Pilgrims and their Wampanoag guests, though there is actually no mention of pumpkins in documents chronicling the first Thanksgiving.
“In those days, [pumpkin pie] was more of a savory dish—not sweet at all,” says Cindy Ott, author of “Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon.” “It changed in 1796 when Amelia Simmons included a recipe of pumpkin, molasses, milk, eggs, and spices in a cookbook titled ‘American Cookery.’ ” The rest is sweet, delicious history.
“We keep our pumpkin pie classic, too, with a familiar blend of spices—cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves—and garnish it with a thick dollop of whipped cream,” Cardona says. “It’s a staple at Sea Island’s Thanksgiving Day brunch.”
Some turn down a slice of pumpkin pie in favor of the sweet potato pie. Both have a smooth yet rich consistency, a delicate sweetness and similar spicing profile, but traditional sweet potato pies carry a hint of molasses. “We feel that the brown sugar and molasses amplify the flavor of the sweet potatoes,” Cardona notes. “We puree the sweet potatoes down until they are creamy and use them in both our pies and pound cakes, another favorite Sea Island dessert.”
Buttermilk pie boasts a light-textured custard filling with a slight tangy flavor. “It’s a blank canvas we can use to build flavorful options. We may incorporate blueberries into a recipe for a little pop of flavor that balances the tanginess, or we may add a little lemon zest to it. In another variation, we shape it into a delicious apple custard pie,” she explains.
As for the classic apple pie, Sea Island chefs use Granny Smith apples to complement the brown sugar and fall spices added to the dessert. “We once took the apple pie off the holiday menu at The Market and our customers nearly rioted,” Cardona says.
Savory versions also have a devoted following. A hearty chicken pot pie—made with tender breast meat, golden carrots, peas and luscious gravy, all cooked inside a buttery crust—graces the menu at the rustic
Oak Room from time to time.
Stop by Sea Island’s dining venues to try slices of these beloved treats, or visit The Market to enjoy mini varieties. These miniature, shareable versions of both apple and pecan pies will be available throughout the fall and winter, along with a rotating Chef’s Choice selection.
Longtime staples in American cuisine, pies are the centerpieces of so many lovely moments at the resort and beyond. Renowned as a holiday dessert, these slices of happiness connect us with loved ones and remind us of home sweet home.
Perfect Pecan Pie
Sea Island’s iteration of this favorite dessert will have your mouth watering in no time.
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 t easpoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups pecan halves
1 pre-baked pie crust, in pie pan
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Slightly heat sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt and molasses on the stove until sugar is dissolved. Slowly add in eggs, incorporating with a whisk, then add vanilla extract. Set mixture aside. Place pecans into the already baked pie shell and pour the liquid filling over them, ensuring that all the pecans are wet before they float to the top. Bake for approximately 1 hour. Pie is done when the center just begins to soufflé. Cool completely, then serve.