It's pecan time.
The season for pecans gears up just before the holidays, allowing cooks to go nuts making all sorts of marvelous holiday treats, even into the winter. Pecans have been in the markets for the last couple of months, with one gallon bags fetching at least $20.
And believe me, that's worth it.
Dan Finch, owner of Finch Blueberry Nursery in Bailey, NC, also grows pecans for his family. And I am now family, since he married my sister a few years ago. When they were first courting, he brought me several of those gallon bags full of beautiful, already-shelled pecan halves, ready for cooking, sorta like a peace-offering to a future in-law.
Since then, he's shared big boxes of pecans that have been dried, boiled, then cracked, ready for ME to pick out the nuts from among the shell fragments. Didn't appreciate how spoiled I was the first time!
A LABOR OF LOVE
I love, love, love getting these big boxes of pecans. However, it takes me several evenings going through them to pluck the meat from the shells. It's tedious work. And believe me, I am NOT complaining. I tend to fill my mouth as I fill my bags with the pecan pieces, sorta OCD-like in raking my fingers through the fractured, brown shells.
Note that I wear rubber gloves. The tannin in the shells will stain your fingers but fast.
And I now have a year's worth of pecans to make pies, add to salads, cakes and other cooking ventures.
So that twenty bucks or more for a bag of pecans at the market seems quite fair to me. And that's not even taking into account the effort it takes to grow and then maintain the trees. Or to collect the nuts in the first place. Dan tells me he shakes the trees with a front hoe or whatever attached to his tractor, and the nuts fall onto a drop cloth laid on the ground. Then they've got to dry out for a while, then he takes them to a facility where they quickly boil the shells to soften them, then cracks and shakes the majority of the outside shell from the meat.
Anything considered a treasure takes time and labor to produce. And pecans are definitely a Southern treasure.
AN ALL-AMERICAN NUT
Pecans are native trees, found in the Southern states. Texas and Louisiana are big producers, as is North Carolina.
"Pee-can" or "puh' kahn"? Native Americans called them "pecaunes" which translates as "a nut requiring a stone to crack." Ha!
There's an art to cracking them gently enough to open them and pull out the two complete, pretty halves. My dad could put two together in his big hands and crack them open.
Thomas Jefferson loved pecans, and had several planted at Monticello. He knew that you need at least two varieties for cross-pollination. Today, you'll find most pecans planted in a "grove."
And, they're healthy for you! Pure protein. Full of omega-6. Antioxidants. Can lower cholesterol.
Guess that mess of pecans I've been eating as I sort through my boxes is doing wonders for my health, as well as my soul.
RECYCLE THE SHELLS
I could place the shells in my compost bin. Better yet, I'll spread them over my herb garden, and let the birds and squirrels pick out the little pieces of nut left, digging and hiding them in the soil. It should be a good mulch. Any one with a negative experience doing this? Please let me know.
RECIPE - CHOCOLATE PECAN PIE
We recently helped our youngest daughter move to Pennsylvania. I picked out enough pecans to make her favorite, a chocolate pecan pie, to take with us. We christened her new house and eased our aching backs with big ol' slices of the fudgy sweet.
Enjoy this recipe that appeared in my first cookbook, THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK.
1 cup corn syrup (light or dark)
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter
4 to 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups raw pecans
1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Place corn syrup and sugar in small saucepan. Stir together, then bring to a boil without stirring further. Remove from heat, and add butter and chocolate, and stir until both are melted and mixture is smooth.
3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs until frothy then add salt. Slowly whisk chocolate mixture into eggs,and stir until well blended. Add pecans, and stir.
4. Pour mixture into unbaked pie shell, smoothing pecans into filling.
5. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, or until filling is somewhat set in the center.