I remember sitting in front of the fireplace with my grandmother. She’d take two pecans in her fist and smash them until the pecans fell apart. Then she would throw the pecans in one bucket and the shells in another. From time to time I would sneak a handful of pecans and stuff them into my mouth, until she finally caught on. She would say “Tonya you’re eating them faster than I can shell them, and if you keep up, I won’t have enough for my pies!”
Once I decided I’d try to crack my own pecans. I took two in my fist and tried with all my might to crack them, squirming all over the place, jumping up and down but I just could not do it. My grandmother laughed and said “maybe you should try it this way for a while.” She took a pecan out of my hand, sat it on the brick fireplace and smashed the shell into little pieces. I was so excited I did one then another and another until it was time for bed. From then on, that became my way of helping my grandmother cook, cracking pecans for her pies.
As I got older I’d play around with recipes of my own while waiting tables at Grandmother’s restaurant, Mama Dip’s. I’d run back and forth from my tables to the kitchen, mixing up my creations and irritating my uncle by making a mess. When the recipes were a success, I could put them in the display case alongside Grandmother’s desserts.
I decided to try to make a cookie that tasted like Grandmother’s pecan pies. I must have tried 100 times but they never turned out right. One day after the lunch rush, I went into the kitchen to throw away another batch but when I picked up the tray I noticed a couple cookies missing. I shrugged my shoulders began to toss the cookies into the trash. My Mom yelled “wait, what are you doing?” She grabbed one off the pan, tasted it and said “put them in the display case.” A customer waiting for a takeout order asked me what they were and I replied “Pecan Crisps.” He said, “I’ll take two.”
But the seal of approval came one day at the restaurant when my grandmother called me over to the table that she always sits at and said “Tonya, I think you’ve got something here. Keep up the good work.” I remember walking away from the table smiling to myself “yes!” You see, if it comes out of her kitchen, my grandmother is the critic of all critics. If she liked my Pecan Crisps, I knew I had just created something special.