Growing up I firmly believed that I was not a nut person. I hated them in cookies, thought they ruined brownies and would pick them out of whatever dish I came across them in. Strangely though I loved to eat nuts by themselves. Dry roasted peanuts found in little bags on airplane trips and pistachios in lurid shades of red would occupy me for hours. The nut dish at my relatives’ homes during the holidays would provide endless entertainment as I excavated my hidden treasures. I never really liked walnuts or pecans as a child. Although I have grown to appreciate their qualities as a chef, you will never find me snacking on a handful of either. Cashews on the other hand have always been a favorite. Probably their scarcity added to the allure. They were always handed out sparingly to the youngsters because they were considered expensive. Okay, as an adult I know they're expensive, but that doesn’t make me love them less. In the grand scheme of things they are an inexpensive luxury, especially when compared to things like fine wines, lobster, caviar, and truffles.
Driving to work this morning I was thinking about the leftover piecrust in the fridge. I hadn’t frozen it so there was a need to bake a pie today. Something about the cold clear air and the way the sunlight bounced off of the trees, I have no idea what exactly, brought to mind the flavor of cashews. Our walnut pie has been a fairly popular recipe and it occurred to me, more than once that a cashew pie was needed. I pondered this as I drove to work, finally deciding that a butterscotch flavor would be the perfect foil for the sweet, mellow nuttiness of my cashews.
Once the piecrust was in the oven I set about putting together a filling. I decided to use Lyle’s Golden Syrup and organic light brown sugar as a base. I melted them together in a saucepan to a rich golden brown caramel that simply cried out for butter. Never one to ignore an impulse I chopped up a couple of ounces of cold sweet butter and swirled them in. The smell rising up from the pan brought me back to my childhood and the neighborhood candy store.
It’s funny how as children we cycled through phases of candy eating. I remember the times when those wax bottles filled with sweet liquid were popular. I also recall one summer when nothing but Bottlecaps would satisfy my sweet tooth, I was partial to the root beer ones. There were weeks of Bubble Yum and Hubba Bubba until the blowing techniques were fully mastered. One day I discovered those tiny chocolates found at the register for a nickel, Ice Cubes, which somehow managed to convey an actual feeling of coolness as the chocolaty richness melted against my tongue. Charleston Chews were consumed in the springtime and Mary Janes kept my cheek muscles occupied in the winter. Then there was the hullabaloo when gummies hit. First there were the bears quickly followed by Swedish fish, worms and coke bottles with a vaguely soda-like flavor. It was always important to be the first one in school with a newly discovered sweet although they came and went with startling speed. The list of sweets and chocolates seems endless, but this morning, the candy that came to mind was a classic, butter rum flavored LifeSavers.
LifeSavers were perfect for snacking on during school hours because they were small enough to be secreted inside your cheek. I could sit there for hours daydreaming, I mean listening to the teachers, while the warm syrupy sweetness slowly ran down the back of my throat. They were especially consoling on the days when I didn’t have a book to read in my lap, or I finished the one I had brought before lunchtime. The idea of the rum flavor made them slightly illicit and thus more pleasurable and the butterscotch essence was something rarely tasted at home. My aunt was an aficionado of English toffee but as a child they were off limits, forbidden fruit. Butter rum LifeSavers were my own brand of toffee, one that I could have access to every day.
So, my decision was made. As the caramel cooled I stirred in my eggs and splashed in some rum. I folded in the cashews and a bit of cream and the butter rum pie was born. A dollop of fresh cream is all the adornment needed although some sweet cream ice cream would not be amiss either. Ironically I probably wont eat any of it, for me the pleasure is in the creating, I still don’t like nuts in my baked goods. But Alex and the others will enjoy it. As the warm smells fill the kitchen I will enjoy the stroll down memory lane, where only good things happen and sweet things are always within reach.
Butter Rum Cashew Pie
Preheat oven to 325ºF
While the crust is in the oven, place the cashews in a large heatproof bowl and set aside. Heat syrup and sugar together until the sugar dissolves. Cut up the butter and swirl into the syrup. Add salt and let cool for 15 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, incorporating each fully before adding the next. Add rum to caramel mixture. Strain over the cashews and add the cream. Fold together to thoroughly coat the nuts and spoon the filling into the piecrust. Place in the oven and turn the temperature down to 325ºF. Bake 40-55 minutes until golden brown and wobbly yet firm in the center. Cover loosely with foil if the crust or nutts appear to be getting too dark.