Monday, February 6, 2012

Georgia Pecans

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 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.)

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.)

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
3 eggs
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


Diane said...

I love pecans and used them a lot in South Africa. Now you mention it I don't remember seeing them here in rural France, I must look out for them as I love Pecan Pie. Diane

Mary said...

I love pecans in anything, especially pie, BUT because it's so loaded with calories and sugar I rarely succumb, except perhaps a piece at Thanksgiving! YOUR VERSION LOOKS/SOUNDS AWESOME!

I do like to 'toast' a few pecans in a skillet with seasoning and throw them into a salad or a rice dish, or just eat a few in hand when they're really fresh. I usually buy the raw shelled ones now at Trader Joe's - ready to use and quite good. Years ago when working, a colleague brought pounds to the office from her trees and sold them for a tiny price, now they were the best ever, but of course a lot of shelling was involved.

Thanks for all the very interesting pecan info. dear. By the way, when I go to France my SIL asks me to bring her some of our Southern pecans.......along with Press 'n Seal....two things she loves for her kitchen!

Hugs - Mary

Friko said...

Sorry, I can't give you a recipe.

I enjoy pecans, usually shelled. We don't get fresh ones. They come in tiny quantities and are quite expensive. We can buy a kind of pecan pie which is mostly syrup with a few pecans squashed into the top or a pecan slice, again, very sweet and with only a few pecans on the top.

Are the French 'pralines' 'burnt' sugared almonds? We call chocolates and truffles pralines here in the UK and also in Germany, like the Belgians do.

French Girl in Seattle said...

A wonderful post, Vagabonde and a thoroughly researched story, as could be expected ;-) Like you, I fell in love with pecans when I first visited Atlanta, many years ago, as a college student. I don't think I have ever used them in cooking though. Maybe it is time... since you kindly provided a great recipe. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

OldLady Of The Hills said...

I LOVE Pecans..And this post was most delightful...! Your Pie Looked SCRUMPTIOUS, My Dear....!

I first ate Pralines back in 1951---Homemade by my Berst Friends mother in Montgomery, ALA. My friend Sammy, who I met in Drama School in NYC said his mother wanted to make Pralines for me for Christmas....I had no idea what they were OR how wonderfully delicious they were....Her's were light tan as in your picture above...And They Were The BEST Tasting Cookie I ever had ...! She made them every year and I looked forwrd to them with my mouth watering...Of course, they were made with Pecans....
Your Georgia Pecans sound so deeeelicious....!!! YUM YUM YUM!!!

Susie Swanson said...

I love this post and you just made me hungry. I couldn't make a Pecan pie if my life depended on it..I love them though..Susie

Kay L. Davies said...

My husband LOVES pecan pie, and he has a birthday in March. I could buy the prepared pie crust, as you did, because I don't make my own pastry any more (my hands get too sore).
Your pie looks SO much better than the restaurant one. I've already bookmarked this page.
The funny thing is, this is the second pecan recipe I've read in a blog this evening.
Thanks for the recipe.

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

Cloudia said...


Warm Aloha from Hawaii
Comfort Spiral

> < } } ( ° >

The Broad said...

I do love pecans -- just on their own is a treat. Pecan pie is too sweet for me, too -- but I may just try your recipe next Thanksgiving. One thing though -- when removing from the shell, make sure you get every bit of shell away as if you eat any by mistake it horribly bitter!

Pondside said...

I used to love getting Georgia pecans from my aunt in Hinesville. Pecan pie? It's my favorite and I only make it once a year because I could eat an entire pie by myself (not, I must add, at one sitting!)

Anonymous said...


A wonderful read of a well researched confection. I love pecan pie. Perhaps it is my North American Indian roots.

Here in Morelia, Patzquaro actually, one can find olive trees. These trees have the original olives from Spain that no longer exist. I find this fascinating and one day, I propose to do as you, and research and write up a recipe made with these olives.

I will always remember this blog post whenever I have a slice of pecan pie.

You sould write one up on peaches one day. I love peach pie or anything involving peaches.

bayou said...

Mouthwatering! I love pecan nuts on the croissants of our local bakery. Very rare here, as well - sometimes one finds them in the shells and I always buy some then. EG has tried to grow them - must investigate if ever anything came up.

Ruth said...

Your build up with the wonderful information about pecans made me hungry, so it's a good thing you included a recipe! I would like to try yours, which sounds much better than the ones I am used to.

We have a fond memory of sleeping under a pecan tree in Texas while we drove across that big state on our move to LA. I was in a toasty sleeping bag, as it was quite cold, but Don's sleeping bag with insufficient. He loves to tell how I looked sleeping soundly in the morning after he shivered all night long.

Wonderful post!

Fennie said...

I like Pecans, too, and this post Vagabonde has told me much that I never knew (especially about the genesis of pralines - but why the red sugar?) and has also given me a lovely recipe for Pecan pie which I might get around to making if ever I can find a quantity of Pecans, which shouldn't be impossible as they do sell them here, imported from Georgia probably. We, of course, don't work in 'cups' (why don't you Americans use grams or ounces?) so would need to translate but I am sure that wouldn't be a problem.

I have though one slight problem in that Pecan sounds like Toucan and for many years I imagined Pecans were birds with beautiful plumages.
That they should be nuts, seems almost a disappointment.

My name is Riet said...

That looks delicious. Great recipe. Have a nice day

Pat said...

Happy Birthday to Monsieur. How lucky is he to have a unique pecan pie baked especially for himself/
I think your idea of whiskey in the cream is brilliant.
Bon appetit!

Dee Ready said...

What an interesting posting about one of my favorite nuts. I've never cared for pecan pie, precisely because of the reason you give--too sweet. So your recipe is one I'd like to try. Thank you for sharing it and also for all the research you must have done on pecans.


Sally Wessely said...

I love pecans. I've thought that those who have a pecan tree or an avocado tree growing in their yard must be some of the luckiest people on earth.

Your pie recipe sounds divine. Thanks for making my mouth water.

Unknown said...

I love pecans and pecan pie - Yummy! Your whole post is wonderfully illustrated.

Jeanie said...

Oh, this sounds divine! Pecan pie is one of my favorites -- I cook with them often but pie isn't my strong suit. I may have to try this one! And I never knew so much about pecans! Thanks for the recipe and the info!

claude said...

Intéressant ton exposé sur l'arbre à noix de pécan. Mon Papa en mettait dans la farce de la dinde qu'il cuisinait pour les Noëls.
Appétissante ta tarte, elle me donne fin.
Je crois qu'on trouve des pécans dans les mélange pour apéritif.
Il faut que j'attends encore au moins deux heures avant de me mettre à table.

Vicki Lane said...

I love pecans and shall try your recipe. I make my pecan pie with local sorghum molasses. Red pralines? I never knew.

WildBill said...

Pecans still seem pretty exotic to me even though the modern grocery store has made the common place. There's nothing like a pecan pie made with maple syrup. Piping hot!

Jenn Jilks said...

What a yummy post! I love your photos. Well done!
We're trying to avoid sweets, but this is tempting!
Cheers from Cottage Country!

Arti said...

Well again, I'm impressed by your depth of research. And, that pecan pie looks so delicious, even after that extra 10 mins. I don't bake and so am not aware of so many variations of the nuts or even the ways you can use them. I don't know any recipes either. But, one of my favorite baked goods is butter tarts with pecans. Maybe you can use some of your pecans for these little delights.

Anonymous said...

Merci pour ce cours! Maintenant, je regarderai les noix de Pecan différemment.

Reader Wil said...

Merci de cette post! Je ne connais pas les pécans, mais ils me semblent très délicieux.
Merci aussi pour les félicitations de la naissance de ma petite fille en Australie!
Bonne journée!

Sheila said...

I love pecan pie!
We also have a butter tart here with pecans in it. Yours looks very good, I've never made one, but having a sweet tooth I would probably go for the corn syrup version.
Happy birthday (belated) to your husband. It is mine today, I won't say how old I am, but I feel 30!

Elaine said...

Interesting post! Pecans are my favorite nut to use in baking, and your pie looks so yummy. Hmmm, I happen to have some pecans in my cupboard.....

Wanda..... said...

Pecans are a favorite at our house, always have a large bag on hand and will try your recipe! Seems I've been missing some of your posts, think maybe they, along with a few other blogs, haven't been showing up on my reader.

lori said...

J'adore les noix de Pécan, mais elles sont assez chères, ta tarte me fait saliver !!

Perpetua said...

I love nuts but have never had pecans, but after reading your lovely post, I must try to find some soon. I feel rather hungry now....

Al said...

I like pecans, and that pie looks delicious.

Vagabonde said...

Thank you friends for your kind words. I appreciate that you took the time to come and read about pecans and I always enjoy your visit.

Merci les amis pour vos gentils commentaires. J’apprécie que vous ayez pris le temps de venir lire mon billet sur les pécans et je suis toujours contente quand vous venez me rendre visite.

FilipBlog said...

Where do you get all these pictures? Great.


Ginnie said...

You simply cannot beat a good pecan pie, Vagabonde! My ex-MIL made several at Thanksgiving time which we even ate for breakfast. Yup, that good. I have no clue what her recipe was but it sure was wonderful.

In the deep South, some pronounce "pecan" with the emphasis on the first syllable and with the can part sounding like a can of beans (PEE-can). I grew up with the emphasis on the second syllable and with the "can" sounding like kaaahn. And so it it with a word like pecan!

mindspringyahoo said...

Love the pecans. Some of the best I found were in an October way back, on the ground in Alma, GA. Those pecans were large, pale yellow, really meaty.

They're great mixed into waffle or pancakes of course, as well as in mashed sweet potatoes, or on top of sweet potatoes.

Thérèse said...

Not sure we can find any pecans around here...
And for the waffles it's perfect time to bake them right now with this cold outside...
What an interesting post. Thks.

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