by Kate Heyhoe
Piñon Caramel Sauce
I first tasted this sauce in Santa Fe. I was sent there on a movie shoot and when the show wrapped, my husband and I set out to explore the magical, mystical corners of New Mexico.
We started with the cave-dwellings of the Anasazi Indians, who thrived around 1100 AD and are ancestors of the present-day Pueblo Indians. The Anasazi were farmers, hunters and gatherers who made their homes high in the weathered rock walls formed from soft volcanic ash. Petroglyphs, pictographs, pottery, tools, masonry, ladders and other remnants of their civilization have been excavated and are on display in Frijoles Canyon, part of Bandolier National Monument, run by that wonderful organization, the National Park Service. The self-guided tour there is fascinating and allows you to actually enter the caves and view the cooking kivas and other artifacts of this culture, which at one time numbered greater than 500 people.
Beyond the self-guided tour lies the most spectacular cave of all, known as Ceremonial Cave. A sign at the bottom of the cave entrance reads:
"TO ENTER THE CAVE, YOU MUST CLIMB FOUR LADDERS TO 140 FEET ABOVE THE CANYON FLOOR. THIS TRIP IS NOT RECOMMENDED FOR THOSE WITH HEART DIFFICULTIES OR A FEAR OF HEIGHTS."
It's a good thing I have a strong heart, because I also have a fear of heights and at that moment I was terrified. The canyon itself is already located some 7000 feet above sea level, which did not bother me, but those four rickety ladders, made from hemp and tree poles, looked like they were the original artifacts made some thousand years before. Horizontally, 140 feet may not seem like much, but vertically it's rather high. If the average household has 10 foot tall ceilings, then this dwelling was 14 stories high. Yikes! my brain was saying. This does not seem like a smart thing to do.
But my emotional part is always up for adventure and experience, so after waiting for some septuagenarians to come down from the ladders (there's nothing like a couple of buoyant and bouncy seniors to make you feel foolish), I proceeded up the first ladder.
I will spare you the excruciating blow-by blow movements as I ascended, rung by rung, ladder by ladder, finally to arrive at the big pay-off. I can see why the Anasazis chose this to be their Ceremonial Cave. It was huge, with a vista of the canyon and opposing canyon wall that postcards are made of. A religious structure known as a kiva was part of this massive cave, and evidence of a fire or cooking area existed. As with all structures larger than life, it is difficult to fully appreciate unless one is actually there and experiencing it. Which was why I knew I had to climb those ladders. I was in awe of my surroundings, and began to see why New Mexicans consider their state to be magical.
Getting down was of course more traumatic than going up, for I was forced to look downwards (ouch!) to secure my footing. By the time I reached the canyon floor, I was breathing hard and my hands were shaking. I looked back up at where I had just been and my brain said the same thing to me as before. Not a smart idea, dummy. But the experience was over and I have gladly captured it in my memory.
Which brings us back to the Piñon Caramel Sauce. Thomas and I returned to Santa Fe and feasted on Margaritas, New Mexican enchiladas, and for dessert, vanilla ice cream with Piñon Sauce (piñon means pine nut in Spanish). It was the sweetest, butteriest, most perfect end to a wonderfully challenging day, and I swore when I returned to my own kitchen I would replicate the sauce as faithfully as possible. This is the result, and I think it just as mouth-wateringly good as the original.
- 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/3 cup light corn syrup
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
- 1/3 cup cream
Place the brown sugar, corn syrup and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook until the consistency of thick syrup, about 3 or 4 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract and the pine nuts. Remove from the heat to cool.
When the sauce has cooled, stir in the cream until well mixed. Serve it hot by reheating in a double boiler or microwave, or serve it cold. Store in the refrigerator.
Spoon this sauce over vanilla-bean ice cream and you have a classic dessert. Or, drizzle it over poached pears or baked apples. Keep it around for unexpected guests for just for a quiet Saturday night at home.
This page originally published in 1994 as part of The Global Gourmet Cookbook.
Copyright © 1994-2007, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page modified January 2007