I’ve always associated the state of Georgia with the best peaches — sweet and juicy, fresh picked from local orchards. On our annual trip to South Florida, we decided to break the 1,000-mile trip at a hotel south of Savannah, Georgia, to check out the crop.
But at this time of year, it turns out, it’s not peaches but pecans that are the star harvest. Georgia is the leading pecan producing state in the country with the nut harvest coming in around mid-October. Billboards along the roadside advertised pecans in all their glory.
In stores, gas stations and roadside stands, packages of pecans were sold. Candied, chocolate covered, peppered with a bite, pecans were found in everything from baked goods (the famous pecan pie), candy and ice cream to a host of other treats.
Wild pecans were a delicacy to the Colonists, but the nut was not commercially grown in the United States until the 1880s. Today the country produces between 80 percent to 95 percent of the world’s pecans from more than 10 million trees.
Modern orchards with plantings of scientifically improved pecan varieties now yield what are called “paper shell” pecans, so called because the nuts are easy to crack and shell. Pecan trees may live and produce edible seeds for more than 300 years.
Pecan producing companies use the latest technology to shell, sort and perform laboratory tests to ensure quality before the nuts are distributed to food manufacturers. The South Georgia Pecan Company, alleged to be the only pecan grinding plant in the world, grinds the shells and sells them to plywood and furniture manufacturers. The manufacturers mix the pecan shell flour with resin to create a product that looks like real wood.
I didn’t succumb to buying a pecan pie. Instead, we bought several pounds of nuts that I’ve already transformed into pies, crunchy toffee and chocolatedipped pecans. The rest I packed into sturdy plastic bags and are now in my freezer (as with most other nuts, pecans freeze well).
Below are some of my favorite recipes. Use a frozen pie shell, and the Citrus Scented Pecan Pie is ready for the oven in minutes. It, too, freezes well, if you want to make it ahead of time.
Citrus Scented Pecan Pie
1 cup light corn syrup
3⁄4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
4 Tbsps. unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs
2 Tbsps. orange juice
2 tsps. fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 tsps. grated orange peel
2 cups pecan halves
1⁄3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
Preheat oven to 350˚.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the corn syrup, brown sugar, butter, eggs, orange and lemon juices and peel. Fold in the pecans and chocolate chips. Pour into the pie crust.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until center is still wobbly. Cool on a wire rack and serve at room temperature.
Serves 8 to 10.
One Bowl Pecan Crusted Kugel
1⁄2 lb. medium noodles, cooked and drained
1 cup nondairy creamer
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1⁄3 cup sugar
3⁄4 cup raisins
2 Tbsps. chopped crystallized ginger
2 Tbsps. fresh squeezed lemon juice
6 Tbsps. margarine, melted, divided
1⁄3 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350˚. Spray a 9-inch square baking dish with nonstick vegetable spray.
In a large bowl, mix the noodles, nondairy creamer, eggs, sugar, raisins, ginger, lemon juice and about 4 tablespoons melted margarine.
Pour into the prepared baking dish. Scatter the pecans over and drizzle with remaining margarine.
Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until golden, crusty and almost firm in center. Serve warm.
Serves 8 to 10.
Easiest Pecan Tassies
(Dairy or Pareve)
Miniature filo tartlets (found in supermarket freezer cases) make this quick and easy. Just mix a filling, spoon into the tartlets and bake.
1 package (15 each) filo tartlet shells
3⁄4 cup brown sugar, packed
3⁄4 cup chopped pecans
1 large egg
1 Tbsp. butter or margarine, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350˚. Place the tartlets on a baking sheet. Set aside.
Prepare filling: In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Spoon the mixture, dividing equally, into the tartlets.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until filling is almost set, but still wet in center.
Cool completely on a wire rack.
Makes 15 tartlets.
Zesty Chili Pecans
1 and 1⁄2 Tbsps. chili powder
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 and 1⁄2 tsps. paprika
1 and 1⁄2 tsps. brown sugar
1⁄2 tsp. garlic powder
2 cups pecan halves
1 and 1⁄2 Tbsps. hot sauce
1 tsp. kosher salt
Preheat oven to 275˚. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, combine the chili powder, pepper, paprika, brown sugar and garlic powder.
Place the pecans in a larger bowl and toss with the hot sauce to coat. Sprinkle the spice mixture over and toss. Spread the tossed nuts on a baking sheet in one layer.
Bake, tossing every 10 minutes, until golden brown and fragrant, about 35 minutes.
Remove from oven, sprinkle with the salt and toss. Remove to a shallow dish to cool completely at room temperature. Store and refrigerate in an airtight container up to 2 weeks.
Makes 2 cups.
Ethel G. Hofman is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Email her at: [email protected].