A lot of folks do not know that I am a Southerner. I’m more likely to talk about Kent, OH than my childhood as a “Georgia peach” knee-high to a grasshopper and I lost my soft(ish) Georgian lilt years ago. However, if you observe me for any length of time, I will inevitably display traits that are decidedly southern.
In general, I find Southerners to be a sentimental sort, wrapped up in their complex personal histories which are not easily untangled or readily divulged..unless you open the old musty closet and get them rattling on about a long-dead relative or (dare I say it) the Civil War. They’re a proud lot with more ghosts and superstitions than any other I’ve encountered. History is a part of them, within them. Family’s important as it was their daddy, or their granddaddy, or their great-granddaddy that did x,y, or z. They invent and re-invent that which is before (or behind) them. They’re charmingly hushed while gossiping and mortified by indiscretion. The southerners of my childhood were storytellers who did not exaggerate the truth as much as the sentiment of the truth.
In the Wildands’ bookcase, there is a volume of short stories entitled Growing up Southern. I pull it out from time to time, read a few, and later, dream of home. I am red clay-stained bare feet and old pine forests. I was cradled by twilight fireflies in a bedside jar and fueled by adventures with my black lab. That dog practically raised me with some help by my parents. Truly, she was a great dog and greater explorer. [Notice me holding her like she’s going to run off—I was the one that needed to be leashed].
I am a Southern Railroad boxcar left to rust on the tracks and an old LP popping and hissing swan, swan hummingbird complete with the charming grace of “sir” and the required “thank you.” I know parts of me will forever be that child—hushed, scolded, and swatted at like a mosquito with the hope I’d grow up to be a proper Southern woman. In many ways, I did. I am chatty without saying a whole lot about anything so that my truly important and private affairs remain so. I believe in honor, loyalty, and recognize that I love my loved ones more because of their quirks which would make even a Flannery O’Connor character proud—or blush. Bless their hearts.
I’ve been thinking about my southern great-grandmother, Muddy. I don’t know why, really—just have. I can’t recall her baking except for cornbread (in a cast iron skillet) and such. I do remember her sassy side comments made from behind an apron. She was a Southern matriarch and I equally feared and loved her.
So with a nod to her, I turn my attention back to the black bottom pecan tart. I’ve delivered it to a friend who loves pecan pie. I await her feedback. From there, I’ll work on other versions including a coconut pecan tart.
Black Bottom Pecan Tart
Press sweet pastry dough into a round or rectangle tart pan. I used a 7 x 10 1/2″ pan with a removable bottom. With the dough in place, I stashed it into the freezer for a few hours. Freezing your prepped pan with the dough reduces the risk of buring the tart’s crust during long baking period and also prevents too much damage to the dough while you’re fiddling with the melted chocolate, filling, and time-consuming placement of pecans.
2 1/4 c. toasted pecans (1 1/4 cup halves, 3/4 c. roughly chopped, 1/4 c. ground)
4 eggs (room temperature)
3/4 c. light corn syrup
4 TBSP. melted unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1-3 TBSP. Four Roses’ bourbon (to suit your taste but can omit)
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips melted
2 TBSP. dark unsweetened cocoa
1. Whisk eggs until well-beaten. Add corn syrup, sugars, butter, salt, vanilla, and bourbon.
2. Add the 3/4 c. roughly chopped and 1/4 c. ground toasted pecans to the filling mixture. Set aside.
3. Melt the semi-sweet chocolate (double boiler, microwave, etc.) and set aside to cool slightly.
4. Take tart out freezer, place cocoa in bottom and shake pan to evenly distribute the cocoa on the bottom. Pour cooled melted chocolate to coat and smooth it out with a spatula.
5. Pour filling into pan and arrange the 1 1/4 c. of pecan halves in any fashion/design that suits your fancy. Place into a pre-heated 325 degree oven for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean when pricked in the tart’s center. If you notice it beginning to bubble over or rise too high, lower the oven temperature a bit. You may need to expand the cooking time, but this is easily managed with a few test-pricks around the hour mark. [Being a scientist, let me share this, pricking the center and checking for doneness is romantic and all, but I use a thermometer— once it hits 200 F, pull it out of the oven and let it cool— trust me, that’s the magic temperature. Promise.]
6. Allow to cool to room temperature for at least two hours. Remove from tart pan. Covered and wrapped, it will last several days in the fridge.