In France I had never eaten a pecan nut. In the US, the first time I ate one I really liked it and since then have eaten many shelled pecans or used them in recipes. The pecan tree (Carya illinoinensis) is a tree native to North America and is found mostly in the south central states. In French pecan is called “pacane” or “noix de pécan.” The name “Pecan” is a Native American word, from the Algonquian, which means a nut requiring a stone to be cracked. Starting in the 16th century Native American tribes in the US and in Mexico used the wild pecan in the fall as a food source. They were the first ones to cultivate the pecan tree.
Pecan tree and nut (courtesy Georgia Agriculture)The US grows nearly 90% of the world’s pecans and Georgia farmers grow the most pecans in the country followed by Texas. Pecan harvesting in Georgia starts in mid-October to the end of December. In early January we drove to Decatur, Georgia – another suburban town east of Atlanta. We stopped to take pictures of some old houses and parked in an empty lot. When ready to leave we saw that there were many pecans on the ground which had fallen from a big pecan tree there. No one had picked them as there was not a house close by. So we did. We placed them in a large grocery bag. I weighed them once at home – we had picked over 8 pounds! (over 3 kg and ½.)
The French in Louisiana were exporting pecans to the West Indies by 1802 through their port of New Orleans. The first time I went to New Orleans I ate “Pecan Pralines.” I had eaten “pralines” in France many times but they were made with almond. The history says that the cook of the French soldier Marshal du Plessis-Praslin (1602-1675) invented the confection and named them pralines. They are usually covered with a caramelized coat of sugar tinted red. You can buy them in Paris in the little kiosks on the street. French settlers brought the recipe to New Orleans and used the pecans instead of the almonds and added sugar cane and cream to the recipe. Below are the French pralines in red, the Pecan pralines in brown and what the Belgians call “pralines” which are their fancy chocolates. (Click on collage to enlarge, then click on each picture to see them better.)
Last week at a local farmer’s market I saw some pecans for sale – they called them “small” but they were a lot larger than our pecans.
Our pecans are small but very tasty. To better show their relative size I took another picture with a paperback book next to them – a poetry book given to me at Christmas by Ruth, my sister-in-law.
I found out that there are more than 500 different varieties of pecans. They vary in size and shape. Some are native species, some have been improved, some are cold hardy, etc. Some of the varieties have great names reminiscent of Native American tribes like Apache, Cheyenne, Choctaw, Kiowa, Oconee, Pawnee, Mohawk, and Comanche. I wish I knew the name of the variety we picked in Decatur. Whatever its name it is a pretty and tasty little nut.
In the 1980s a friend gave us a small black walnut tree which we planted in our yard. The tree is mature now and gives us black walnuts but they are so hard to shell that we leave them on the ground for the squirrels. I wish we had planted a pecan tree instead. It takes twenty five years to mature so by now we would have many pecans. My husband has been shelling the pecans we gathered as I promised to make a pecan pie for him since it was his birthday and pecan pie is one of his favorites.
I find that the corn syrup in the standard pecan pies too sweet for my taste. I have never baked a pecan pie but decided to create one without the corn syrup. I looked at several recipes and came up with something. It came out quite good and not too sweet. Here is my recipe below.
My Pie with Georgia Pecans
1 ½ cup brown sugar
1/3 cup agave syrup (or maple syrup or ½ cup white sugar)
½ cup butter (1 stick) or butter substitute
¼ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon 1/2 and 1/2 cream or milk
1 ½ Tablespoon Bourbon Whiskey – if not use milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups pecans, chopped later
1 cup pecan halves
1 9” unbaked pie shell (homemade or store bought)
Preheat oven to 350 F degrees
Place 2 cups pecans in a shallow baking dish and roast them in a 350 F oven for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. When cool, chop the pecans. Increase the heat in the oven to 400 degrees F.
Melt butter and add to chopped pecans. In a large bowl beat eggs slightly. Stir in brown sugar, agave or white sugar, flour, salt, ½ and ½ cream or milk and Bourbon Whiskey. (Or just use cream or milk instead of the Bourbon because once baked I frankly could not taste the Bourbon at all.)
Add the 2 cups chopped pecan in butter to bowl.
Place above in prepared pie shell. I bought a deep-dish Pillsbury pie shell.
Place pie in 400 degree F preheated oven. Bake for 10 minutes only. Remove from oven and turn oven down to 325 degree F. Place the 1 cup of pecan halves on top of pie (or as many as you can squeeze on top.) I sprayed some liquid butter on top of the pecans so they would not get too dry, but that is optional.
Return pie to 325 degree F oven with a piece of aluminum foil placed over it, loosely. Bake 50 minutes more. Take out of oven and remove aluminum foil.
When I took the pie out of the oven it looked done but the center was jiggling a bit. I don’t know if this is the right term – I am not a recipe writer – but it felt like it was not set. So I placed it back in the oven for 10 minutes. I think now that I should have placed it back for only 5 minutes or not at all, as it would have set when cool.
My husband had some artisan vanilla ice cream with his piece of pie. I preferred to eat my piece of pie with a little glass of “Praline” pecan liquor from New Orleans.
The pie would be good with some whipped cream flavored with a bit of Bourbon whiskey. Last week we went to a Waffle House restaurant and I had a small piece of pecan pie. This pie was made with the usual corn syrup. It was a lot sweeter and did not have pecans in the filling. Here is this pie below.
We still have many pecans to shell. I hear they keep up to two years in the freezer but I’d like to bake “pecan bars” next time– maybe with cranberries or some other type of cookies. Has anyone a good recipe?
Fresh Pecans by Qiang Huang, Chinese, contemporary