The Grit Girls get along famously. Even when we disagree, we do so civilly and without contention. But there is one topic that can turn into a red-faced yelling match and it happens every year. The topic in question: pie. Pecan pie to be exact.
Now, we all have our own recipes, but really – you can’t mess up pecan pie. It’s crust, pecans, and sugary goo. It’s delicious. But, no, it’s not our recipes or slight variances that we argue over.
It’s the pronunciation. That’s right. We argue over how to say, “pecan pie.” And we all say it differently.
Growing up, my whole family pronounced it “puh-con pie.” My mom and dad, grandparents, siblings, cousins. I didn’t know there was another way to say it until I watched When Harry Met Sally and he said “pee-can pie.” I thought maybe it was a New York thing.
But then Frankie Ann, who hails from Pennsylvania, says it “pee-con.” Some strange hybrid of the two. She claims it’s the Italian way of saying it, even to the point of drawing out the n-sound, also a “pee-conna” if you will.
And my assumptions on Billy Crystal’s New York pronunciation flew right out the window when I found out that Delia, former Miss Charlestonian, proclaimed it was said “pee-can.”
I will never forget the first time we all discovered our different ways of saying it. A few years ago the city of Bellamy was having a fall harvest festival and one of the key components was a pecan pie contest. I had told Frankie Ann and Delia that I was going to enter the pecan pie my granny’s granny used to make. They said they also had recipes to enter as well.
But then I heard them say pecan. I was baffled as we all sat around at the park one evening for a multi-family picnic.
“Delia, I can’t believe I just heard you say ‘pee-can.’” I stared at her wide-eyed and suppressed a giggle. I thought that was how northerners said it.
Delia glanced around for a moment, watching the hoard of children we all called ours chasing each other across a dusky field. She then turned to me and wagged her finger.
“Y’all, my family has been making pecan pies since the first Thanksgiving when they came over on the Mayflower,” she insisted. “And we have said it ‘pee-can’ for four hundred years.”
Frankie Ann shook her head. “That’s all well and good, Delia, but it’s wrong. Italians invented all foods worth eating, including pecan pie, and it’s pronounced ‘pee-con.’ I know what I’m talking about,” Frankie Ann argued back.
My family isn’t Italian. And we didn’t come over on the Mayflower. I’m pretty sure we were working class Scotch-Irish immigrants. But we did come to South Carolina in the 1640s if that counts for anything. And we survived. With our recipe for pecan pie, and we say it the proper way.
“Clearly you all don’t know how to say it the South Carolina way. ‘Puh-con.’ It’s so simple. I’m sure my family from right here in South Carolina learned about pecans from the friendly natives and they taught settlers how to say it.” I rested my case.
“Or, maybe the Native Americans thought they’d play a big trick on poor Irish immigrants and tell them the wrong way to say it before they scalped them, Kate,” Frankie Ann fired back at me.
“How dare you, Frankie Ann!” I felt my face turn red with rage. My family was not scalped – that I know of.
Our husbands stared at us in mass confusion. We rarely got so heated, and certainly not over how to pronounce a nut. I’m pretty sure they began to back away from us after that.
“That’s not the point,” Delia interjected. A voice of reason. Until she said, “The point is that it’s ‘pee-can’ and no amount of arguing can change hundreds of years of tradition.”
“Your tradition maybe, but for us, it’s pee-con,” Frankie Ann said.
“Do you know how ridiculous you both sound, especially you, Delia? Yes, it’s spelled P-E-C-A-N, but it’s not P-E-E. Why would you want to pronounce any food with ‘pee’ in it?” Saying that first syllable their way made me think of bodily functions, not delicious pie. “A pee-can, is a port-a-potty. A can you pee in, not a dessert.”
“Kate Moffatt, don’t be crass,” Frankie Ann said, looking around at the kids. They weren’t paying us any attention. Then she looked to Ewan. “How do you say it?”
Ewan looked like a deer caught in headlights. He did not want to give the wrong answer – which would be anything other than how F.A. said pecan. “Um, I’ve heard it all those ways, actually.”
“Yes, but how do you say it?”
“Pee-con, of course,” he said, looking nervous.
“Chase?” I asked my husband. Surely he would agree with me.
“Actually,” he said in a small voice, “I have to agree with Delia here. I say ‘pee-can.’”
“You can’t be serious,” I cried.
“See?” Delia puffed with pride.
“Don’t get too excited, Delia,” Nathan chimed in, shaking his head. “I’m with Kate. I say ‘puh-con.’ My whole family says it like that.”
“Yes! Nathan is on my side,” I announced. Delia could have Chase.
“Not your side, it’s just how I say it. None of them are wrong.”
Our argument never resolved that night, and it had carried on every fall since then.
This time we were all at Delia’s house to make pies for the annual contest. We had each won one time, and were ready to name someone’s pie as superior. It also seemed to serve as the way of deciding who’s pronunciation was actually correct.
Nathan was smart and was taking their children to the movies while we baked and argued. But before they left, he sat at the bar across from us all. He stared us down.
“What?” Delia eyed his suspiciously.
“I’ve been doing research,” he said.
Her eyes turned to slits. “You mean pecans?” Of course, they both said it differently.
“Actually, none of you say it wrong. They’re all acceptable ways of pronouncing the one word.”
Frankie Ann waved a mixing spoon in the air. “Here we go!”
Ever calm, Nathan smiled. “Hear me out. I looked it up. The Native Americans called any shelled nut a pekani. The French picked it up and pronounced it ‘puh-con.’ But when it was picked up by English settlers, they changed it. The French tend to stress the last syllable, the English stress the first. So it became ‘pee-con.’ Over time, and with the spelling, ‘pee-can’ also became an acceptable way to say it.”
“But it was puh-con first?” I asked.
“Technically? Yes,” Nathan said with a shrug. “Now, don’t fight all day. Have fun.” He stood and called for the kids to get into the car as he left the kitchen.
“Whatever, I’m still going to win the contest this year,” Frankie Ann announced.
“In your dreams, O’Malley,” Delia countered.
“You don’t have a pie plate to stand on,” I said with a sneer. At least, it was a sneer until I began laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes.
We all laughed so hard we had to go to the bathroom – that’s what happens when you have too many children. And we baked our pies and bantered some more. Fighting with your friends can be a lot of fun if you’re good natured about it.
We all entered our pies to see who would come out victorious. Turns out, none of us could claim superiority. This year’s prize went to Amy Collins. You remember her, don’t you? She’s the one who snagged the handsome firefighter a while back. Oh well. There’s always next year.
How do you say “pecan?” I say “puh-con,” but my husband says, “pee-can.”
Check out this really cool video on the history of the word: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ex-A2nkWOtA