Growing his own food has always been very important to my grandfather and it shows.
His entire house in surrounded by food. Edible things are everywhere, and as a child, I took it completely for granted.
Now that I’m an adult I realize the value of having access to home grown produce, and pay a hefty premium at New York’s green markets to buy food that someone else grew for me. As a kid though, the stuff was literally growing up out of the ground and falling from the trees. Even today grandpa has more than he and my grandmother could even imagine eating, and give it away for free to anyone who stops by for a visit.
When I was young though, I didn’t even like most of what Grandpa grew. Other than strawberries and grapes, much of what came out of his garden was completely wasted on me. I wasn’t very fond of apples, I thought pears were grainy and disgusting, and I wouldn’t even eat tomato sauce on pasta, let alone eat a fresh tomato from the garden. I hated squash, asparagus, peppers, you name it. As fondly as I remember my childhood, I can’t help but look back on those days with a bit of remorse for the things I could have eaten but didn’t.
Now that I do like most of these foods, I live too far away to take much advantage of the bounty of Grandpa’s garden. I don’t get to take home any of the bags of asparagus and bright juicy berries in the spring, peaches and zucchini and summer squash in the summer, tidy rows of tomatoes ripening on the window sills later in the year, or mountains of butternut squash and branches weighed down by apples and pears in the fall.
The whole coulda, shoulda, woulda, but didn’t thing doesn’t end with the fruits and veggies either. Grandpa also has plenty of nut trees growing on his land too. Big spiky chestnuts litter the yard behind his garage, and he’s locked in a constant battle with squirrels over the English walnuts towering over the gravel driveway across from the house.
Walnuts though, took me even longer to learn to appreciate. I didn’t like nuts as a kid (suprised?) but even after I started eating tomatoes and squash and asparagus, I still hated walnuts. In most baking recipes that called for them, I usually left them out entirely or occasionally might substitute pecans in their place.
While pecans are sweet and subtle, walnuts are bitter and bold in a way that I only learned to love a year or two ago. I think it was my love of dark chocolate that finally taught my palate to appreciate the earthy bitterness of walnuts in baking.
Look at me now, only a few short years later, substituting walnuts for pecans instead of the other way around. I absolutely love pecan pie, especially at Thanksgiving, but I thought adding walnuts might be a fun twist. Pecan pie is sweet and crunchy and buttery and wonderful in every possible way, but I sometimes find it can be a little one note with all that corn syrup and sweet nuts.
This maple walnut pie is basically a Yankee version of the traditional Thanksgiving pecan pie. Rather than just subbing walnuts for pecans, I also swapped the corn syrup for maple syrup and brown sugar. The pie retains every bit of it’s sweet buttery goodness, with crunchy nuts and a crispy flaky crust, but instead of one-note sweetness it has incredible depth. The earthy bitter walnuts are perfectly balanced by the rich sweetness of the caramel-y maple syrup and deep molasses-y brown sugar. Even people who might not love the bitter crunch of walnuts will likely love this pie. I’m reluctant to say that I’ve improved upon the pecan pie that many hold so dear, but this year when I had my fakesgiving dinner this was definitely the fastest pie to disappear.
Maple Walnut Pie
2 1/2 cups shelled walnuts
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar (light will work fine too)
1 cup REAL maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons bourbon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Preheat oven to 425.
Roll out pie crust and gently transfer to a 9 to 9.5″ pie dish. Trim and crimp the edges and freeze the crust for at least 15 or 20 minutes. Fit the crust with a large square of parchment paper and fill the dish with pie weights, dried beans, or even pennies. Bake the crust at 425 for about 15 minutes or until the crust is set and the edges are beginning to brown. This is called blind baking the pie shell. For more info, the Kitchn has a great tutorial. Let cool.
Turn the oven down to 350.
Arrange walnuts in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet. Toast the nuts until fragrant and oily looking, about 8 to 10 minutes. Be careful they don’t burn or they can become very bitter. Let cool and crush 2 cups of the nuts, keeping 1/2 cup whole if desired.
Turn the oven back up to 375.
Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Add maple syrup and salt, stir, and let cool for at least 10 minutes.
In a medium bowl lightly beat eggs and add vanilla, bourbon, and nutmeg. Mix in butter mixture and the 2 cups of crushed walnuts. Stir until well combined, and pour into baked pie shell. If desired, top with reserved whole walnuts in a circular pattern.
Bake for 45 minutes or until well set and puffed in the center. Cool on a wire rack. Cool completely before serving.
You can use any recipe you like, or even a store bought crust, but I think all butter crusts have the best flavor. I used my favorite crust recipe, but it makes two single crusts so you can freeze one, make another pie, or use the other for your pumpkin pie.