Saying Goodbye to Esther’s China with Bourbon Pecan Tart


Yesterday two of my favorite cousins came to visit. It’s been a few years since I’d seen either of them, but it’s an easy time when we are together. Unfortunately, so many of our meetings have been at funerals in the last few years. Yesterday was a happier occasion. It was time to pass along a family treasure.

About twenty years ago, my mother gave me a set of china. She’d been serving holiday dinners on that china for most of my childhood, and it was time for me to do the same. Before it was Mom’s, it was her mother, Bea’s, and she, too, used it for the big holidays – Passover, Yom Kippur, and Thanksgiving.

But first, around the turn of the LAST century, it was my Great-Grandmother Esther’s china. She received this amazing set for her wedding – Royal Worchester ‘Cordova’ in a pale yellow with flowers. I would guess it was service for sixteen, originally. Now, it is full service for twelve, with some pieces having fourteen. Predictably, some tea cups and double handled soup bowls suffered the indignity of cross-country moves.


This is serious china. Dinner plate. Salad. Dessert. Luncheon. Cream soup. Clear soup. Custard. Tea cups. Demitasse cups. Lots of saucers. And gorgeous serving pieces. I love to think of all the family members who have had matzo ball soup from those pretty bowls.

Lizzy & Laura arrived around 7 and we had some Costieres de Nimes, a favorite wine, and vegetarian cassoulet, an easy, satisfying recipe, then got down to packing boxes. One hour later, we had carefully wrapped each and every piece, all the while reminiscing about family. It was a satisfying happy moment for me. I felt the presence of all these strong women from our past – Esther, Bea, Jan – and how each of us carries a piece of them.

To reward ourselves, we sat down to hot tea and a bourbon pecan tart. This recipe is from the current issue of Bon Appetit. I thought about adding it to the Thanksgiving dessert table, but I already have six desserts planned. The occasion of the cousin-reunion was certainly enough to warrant this lovely not-too-sweet, not-too-gooey, slightly boozy, pecan tart.

I waved goodbye this morning, to Laura, to Lizzy, and to the china. I was a little wistful, admittedly, but ever aware of the women who have defined our family for generations, and how this treasure has been with each woman along the way.


Bourbon-Pecan Tart
adapted from Bon Appetit

Pie Crust
1-1/3 c flour
1 stick unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
1/4 c ice water

Pie Filling
3 eggs
1/2 c brown sugar
3 T melted butter
1/4 c maple syrup
1/2 c molasses
2 T bourbon
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
2 c pecan halves

I exchanged the dark corn syrup with molasses and maple syrup. Corn syrup freaks me out.

Using a food processor or a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until it’s pea-sized. Add the ice water and process briefly until just combined. Empty the contents of the processor bowl onto the counter and work the dough gently, patting the crust into a disk. Wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap and chill well for at least two hours. I like to let them chill overnight.

Roll out pie crust and fit into a 10″ tart pan with removable bottom. Chill the crust in the pan for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 375.
Line crust with foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 30 minutes, remove the beans and foil and dock (pierce with a fork) the bottom of the crust. Pop it back in the oven for 10 more minutes to dry out the crust.
In the mixer, beat the eggs and sugars until well blended. Add the rest of the ingredients except the pecans and stir until well blended. Stir in the pecans.

Pour the filling into the crust while it is still quite warm. Bake until the filling is set, about 25 minutes.

Cool for an hour before removing the outside of the pan. Can be served slightly warm, or at room temperature.

5 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye to Esther’s China with Bourbon Pecan Tart”

  1. Beautiful china and a beautiful pie!

    I inherited my husband's great-grandmother's monogrammed table linens, because I used to be the one to host the family dinners. One Christmas I was getting ready to have the bunch, including some young ladies who I decided were old enough to appreciate the family history. I was standing in the laundry room, ironing the tablecloth and napkins carefully, quite enjoying it, and thinking of how these linens connected me to the past. "Nearly 100 years ago, Great-Grandmother White would be preparing to serve Christmas dinner on this tablecloth, and ironing it just as I am now." Then I came to my senses and realized that Great-Grandmother White, a woman of means, would have had servants doing all this stuff. Oh well.

  2. What a lovely post! But are Lizzie and Laura splitting the collection between themselves? Or were they taking it to a third relative?

  3. Lizzie & Laura are splitting the china – each taking some home – but will no doubt reunite it when they have larger gatherings.

  4. Kelsey – I'm trying to divest myself of stuff. We're hoping to move to a much smaller place in the near future. (Also, there's another set of china I've got my eye on!)

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