Uncle Garbage Pail and Cocoa Pecan Pie

When I was a little girl, if I left food on my plate, I handed it over to my dad to finish, saying I had something for “Uncle Garbage Pail.” This nickname, I later learned, had been lifted from Herman Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar. Even now, at age 92 and 7 months and 2 weeks and 3 days, Dad has an appetite to rival his teenage grandsons’.

But I’ve discovered something now that I cook more for Dad than I did while Mom was alive: even though he is pretty easygoing in general, Dad reserves his enthusiasm for his favorites. I realized that when I knocked myself out to make some really special fish or chicken dish, he’d eat it but not really say anything. I finally figured out that he’s just eating those dishes out of politeness or duty. If I make a brisket, on the other hand—even a really simple brisket that I did nothing to but cook on the stovetop a la Mom’s pot roast style—then he’s happy and I hear endless praise.

Eventually, I learned that when he visits us (which is happening less and less often since he’s in NYC and I’m in Maryland and the trip is getting to be too much for him), he’s happy if I make lots of beef and his two favorite desserts, pumpkin pie and pecan pie. In fact, last year, I bought a cheap and enormous pumpkin pie at Costco that we had for days and he was thrilled to eat it even when it kept showing up again (it was really big).

This year's cocoa pecan pie photographed by someone who does love it--REG

This year’s cocoa pecan pie photographed by someone who does love it–REG

As to the pecan pie—I’ve always used my mother’s recipe for cocoa pecan pie (although I’ve updated the recipe a bit with almond milk rather than nondairy creamer and couple of other tweaks). When Dad last visited my family, I made two pies and wanted to give him some to take home. Well, imagine my surprise when he told me that he doesn’t really like chocolate and prefers a plain pecan pie. It turns out that he is a nut person and not a chocolate person—something I seemed to have missed during the Uncle Garbage Pail years.

So I won’t be making cocoa pecan pie for Dad—but I am making it for Thanksgiving and am sharing the recipe now in case you want to add it to your holiday repertoire.

Cocoa Pecan Pie

Crust (for 2 pies)

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

scant ½ cup confectioner’s sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup unsalted butter, cut into small cubes (can use margarine)

1 egg yolk

2 tbsp cold water

Put the flour, confectioners sugar, and salt in a bowl and add the butter, using the paddle attachment on the mixer (or use your hands or the food processor). Mix until the dough is the consistency of coarse bread crumbs.

Add the yolk and water and mix until the dough just comes together. Do not over mix. Add more water by drops if necessary.

Shape the dough with your hands into 2 disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until ready to use. Remove from the refrigerator around half an hour before you are ready to use.

Roll out dough on a floured board into a 10 inch round.  Place it carefully in pie plate or tart pan. While this isn’t Mom’s recipe, I’ll share her comment since it can apply here as well: “. . . crust still looks like a map of Asia, but . . . once it’s tucked and baked —nobody knows!”  Prick with a fork

Cocoa Pecan Pie filling (for one pie—but I usually double this)

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup cocoa

3 eggs

¾ cup corn syrup (either light or dark)

1 tsp vanilla

¼ cup sifted all-purpose flour

½ tsp. salt

¼ cup melted butter (or margarine)

¾ cup unflavored unsweetened almond milk

1 1/3 cup pecan halves (1/2 cup should be chopped, ½ should be whole, but don’t have to be perfect and the final 1/3 cup are for the surface of the pie, so you want nice, decorative halves, not ones that are nicked)

Preheat oven to 325.

Sift together sugar, flour, cocoa, salt.

Beat eggs for several minutes. Add melted butter, corn syrup, almond milk and vanilla.

Add dry ingredients to mix and stir until smooth. Blend in 1 cup of nuts (both the chopped and whole but not necessarily perfect nuts). Pour into unbaked pie shell.

Bake for 5 minutes and then remove and add decorative pecans. I begin with 3 pecans in the center and fan out into circles from there. My mom would just spread the nuts out haphazardly. Return the pies to the oven and bake for an additional 55 minutes.