Friday, May 14, 2010

A Taste of North Texas History

Could what we now call just Pecan Pie originally be from Fort Worth?   Mrs. Vesta Harrison claims to have made up the recipe for "Texas Pecan Pie", in Like Wine and Cheese....Older is Better, published by the City of Dallas for the Public Library (1974).   Sue Murch, historian, recorded many ladies in area nursing homes asking about how and what they learned to cook while growing up.  She put to print a portion of their interviews and combined them with recipes from each to give readers a flavor of what it was like to cook back in the early1900's.

Mrs. Harrison came to Fort Worth at the age of four and was a member of the North Fort Worth Baptist Church for 67 years, so I will give her the benefit of the doubt.  Besides, her recipe won her $500, which back in the day was a huge chunk of cash.  In her own words, this is her recount: 
"Yes, the $500 Pecan Pie...The Star Telegram used to bring a Mrs. Chitwood from Chicago to hold a cooking school in Fort Worth.  The second year she was there---now I was not quite eighteen---I dreamed one night of a pecan pie.  The next day over there I said, 'Mrs. Chitwood, have you ever made a pecan pie?'  and she said there wasn't any such thing!  Well, I told her I'd dreamed of one.  She just brushed me off, and so I thought, 'Well, by gollies, I don't know how, but I'm gonna mess up something making a pecan pie.'  So I just made a sorghum syrup pie and put a cup of pecans in it, and it was good.  I took a piece of pie over to Mrs. Chitwood the next day, and I said, 'I want you to know that after dreaming of a pecan pie, I went home and made one."  She told me it was delicious and asked me how I made it."

"After I gave her the recipe of what I did, she said, 'Well, let's put this down and I'm going to send it to Washington.  Do you mind?  We'll name it the Texas Pecan Pie.'  So she sent it to Washington and it was about 5 days, a telephone call come and following the telephone call a check for $500 to me for the pecan pie recipe."
Now there are certainly enough clues here to go back and determine what dates Velma would have been talking about.  According to the book, she moved to Fort Worth at age 4 and at the time of writing (1974) had lived there 75 years, which means she moved to Fort Worth in 1899, she would have been 18 in 1913.  According to some sources, there's no known written recipe for Pecan Pie before 1925.  I know my math's good, but the rest of the story would have to be verified before this could be recorded as fact.

For instance, who sent her the $500 from Washington?  Wouldn't there be some record of this - $500 is a very generous prize for that time, maybe there's more record of this?  Ida Chitwood was a person of note in Dallas' food history - in the 1930's she ran a cooking school, published cook books for area flour mills (under the name of Southern Laboratory Kitchens),  and performed cooking demonstrations at the Old Mill Inn down in Fair Park.  I can't find any information about her from Chicago, however, and her Centennial Cook Book (1936) does not include Ms. Harrison's Texas Pecan Pie recipe.

But by God I believe that good church-going lady.  I'm going to keep checking newspaper archives.

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