Pecan pie is a Thanksgiving and Christmas tradition for many American families. But unless your brother-in-law who has a pecan tree in his Georgia backyard is driving up to join your Ohio clan in time for Thursday's dinner, purchasing pecans for multiple pies in the local supermarket can be a pain in the pocketbook.
|Steve Gibson is ready to serve up his oatmeal pie, laden with Granny Smith apples and brown sugar. (Photos: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Steve Gibson has the answer.
His original version of oatmeal pie is a fantastic alternative to pecan pie.
It's juicier, less cloying, much more interesting.
"The base is like a pecan pie," said Gibson, but arrived at in a less processed and very autumn-friendly way.
"It uses oatmeal in the filling" along with a reduced amount of either pecans or walnuts. "You can have pecans in this version, but just a half cup. For a pecan pie you'd want a lot more than that, and the typical pecan pie wouldn't have rolled oats or the apples."
The concept of oatmeal pie "originated when people around here didn't have enough money for pecans," explained Gibson, a Renaissance guy who is the current mayor of Deshler; retired English and history teacher, football, volleyball and track coach down at Patrick Henry High School; and present sales manager at Auto Zone in Bowling Green.
"I've had multiple recipes from different cookbooks. Most had Karo syrup as an ingredient and I wasn't pleased with the consistency," said Gibson. "So I substituted real maple syrup. And I tried to stir in the stuff my wife likes to put on her oatmeal when we go to Cracker Barrel - apples and pecans, brown sugar. So I just put it all in there."
Anyone who noses around can find "a lot of recipes out there for oatmeal pie. One I found on the internet, the guy said it went back to the Civil War."
Gibson, with his history degree, considers that highly doubtful. "It had Karo syrup in it and I doubt they had Karo syrup back then. Perhaps black-strap molasses."
Eight years ago he retired after 38 years of teaching. Politics followed.
Previously president of Deshler's town council, Gibson was elected mayor seven years ago. He and his wife first moved to Deshler in 1978 - just in time to get completely snowed with no power for days during the Great Blizzard.
It was a huge contrast from the environment where he grew up.
Chicago born and raised, Gibson knew nothing about northwest Ohio when, as a high school senior, he saw a catalog for Bowling Green State University.
"They had a high reputation in biology, which was my interest at the time. It's actually about the same distance (from Chicago) to BG as to Urbana-Champaign. Back then Ohio was cheaper, even paying out of state fees."
He met his wife, Gay, while both were undergrads here. Gibson got bachelor's degrees in English and History in 1967 and a master's, also from BGSU, in 1971.
BGSU is also where Gibson developed an interest in food.
"I learned to cook at Harshman Dining Hall - back when the international wing was there, and they used to have frequent banquets."
He worked for Student Dining Services starting in 1964.
"At that time the international students lived in Harshman - one per room. Each international student roomed with a U.S. native, of which I was one." Gibson's roommate was from the Central African Republic.
"On the weekends they would feature foods from the different countries. We would cook for those students, plus visitors. Sub-Saharan, African foods, Middle Eastern, besides European, Latino. I don't remember specific recipes but I remember the smells, the tastes."
Since then, cooking for large numbers doesn't intimidate Gibson.
"We will sit down 21 in my family" for Thanksgiving, a total that includes their four kids - all married, and 11 grandchildren aged 2 to 15.
"I am the cook in my family, always have been," Gibson noted. "Thanksgiving is always a highlight for me."
Besides the oatmeal pie "I have another weird one I make for Thanksgiving too. A pineapple pie. It's pretty tasty.
"My daughter Kate and her husband are strict vegans, so we'll have dishes with squash, sweet potatoes and rice, and then the rest will dig into turkeys.
"So some of the dishes I have will be meatless, I make a casserole with chunked-up butternut squash, rice, celery and onions" and a mushroom soup base.
Kate and her husband, also BGSU alums, will be driving in from Cleveland.
Both return to this area frequently to perform. They had the leads in "Evil Dead" at the Valentine Theatre a few years ago, Gibson noted.
Clearly, interesting career trajectories run in the family.
Gibson has been collecting and restoring cars for decades - all Corvairs. The owner of the BG Auto Zone "said when I retired he had a job for me, and I've been there ever since, going on eight years."
It's Gibson's twice-a-week breakfast buddy, former BG Police Chief Galen Ash, who recommended the oatmeal pie as a Cook's Corner feature.
"I've adjusted it over time - the eggs, how much sugar. You just play with it. This version is the one I've made a few times now and I say to myself 'OK, no more changes.'"
Gibson said the pie bakes "quite a while with a decent temperature, so usually I protect the edges of the crust with a cover. I have a polypropylene piece; got it from Williams and Sonoma, but you could use tin foil."
He also recommends "a good bit of flour on the pastry, both sides. There's a lot of sugar in this. You don't want your bottom crust to disappear if you can prevent it."
Steve’s oatmeal pie
1 unbaked pie crust
3 eggs, whisked until frothy
3/4 cup real maple syrup
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts
1 medium Granny Smith apple - peeled, cored and diced
3/4 cup uncooked regular rolled oats
1. Line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry. Due to high sugar content, I usually flour pan and pastry. Do not prick.
2 . Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine eggs, sugars, milk, melted butter, and vanilla. Stir until sugars dissolve and all ingredients are very well blended.
4. Stir in coconut, diced apple, nuts and oats.
5. Allow to sit awhile so the oats can soak up some of the liquid.
6. Pour mixture into pie shell and use a spatula to even the top.
7. Put into oven and bake at 375 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes until top is browned and set. Protect the crust with a cover for half the baking time.
8. Cool on a wire rack for an hour or two and then refrigerate. Keep in refrigerator.
Pie is excellent with cinnamon-dusted whipped cream.
Other tastes may like raisins for apples or skipping the nuts.