Southern Voices on Pecans: Cheryl Day, Back in the Day Bakery

Southern Voices on Pecans: Cheryl Day, Back in the Day Bakery

Pecans are an iconic part of Southern cooking, so much so that they have become woven in our memory of family, place, and many a good meal. As essential to the Southern table as they were generations ago, pecans are a prized nut, so we asked some of the South’s best cooks to share their stories about this crop we are so fortunate to tend. Here is what they had to say.

 

By Stephanie Burt

Not all Southern stories start in the South. Cheryl Day, cookbook author and co-owner of Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, grew up far away from the tree-lined streets of the city she now calls home. To many, the big city and West Coast style of Los Angeles might seem more fairy tale than fact, but to Cheryl, it was the farms, forests, and fields of the South that seemed so.


“I always heard stories about the South, and I’ve only baked Southern food all my life, but it was like a storybook place to me because I never visited until I was around 10,” she explains. Her parents migrated from Alabama after World War II as part of the Great Migration, and although they told her stories, they had firmly planted their family in the California metropolis. Cheryl was the youngest member of the family, and she remembers that her mom -- a social worker for Los Angeles County -- was a busy woman.


“She was busy, but my mom always baked pies, and I always loved to bake, so I figured out early on that would be my time with her,” she explains. “You can imagine, I asked a million questions, about baking, the South, everything.”


Cheryl and her sister were fortunate that, despite her mother’s early death, they still know a lot of her stories. She wrote letters to them, and those letters included family history, important dates, and of, course, recipes.


“For my mother and me, it was always pie, so when I think of pecans, I always think of making pecan pie with her.”


These days, Cheryl and her husband, Griff, own and operate the bakery, and there is often pecan pie, festooned with glazed pecans in the glass case or on a vintage cake stand. The bakery is full of personal touches, and customers respond not only to the food, but to the bakers themselves, who often come out from the kitchen to pose for pictures with guests, guests who often wait in lines out the door for a taste of that pie, a perfect biscuit, or a sugar cookie with old fashioned icing. The whole thing feels a bit like someone’s kitchen (the kitchen of the best bakers you have probably ever met, that is), and the baked goods are often at the whimsy of the baker but always delicious. And the pecan pie recipe? Well, that’s a recipe that for years Cheryl has played with, recreated, and developed variations of for two cookbooks and countless articles. It’s a pie reaches back and reaches forward, connecting a bakery on one coast with a long-ago kitchen on the other. And you can taste the love in every bite.


Back in the Day Bakery Bourbon-Pecan Pie (from Food & Wine)

To check out Back in the Day Bakery's cookbook, click here.




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