Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Pecans, The All-American Nut.

The first time I ever got to visit Disney World, in Florida, was in 1979.  It was spring break and the sorority I was in decided we would vacation in Fort Lauderdale.  Going to Florida was a first for me as well, as my family did not do any vacationing at all. At that time, there was only The Magic Kingdom to visit; Epcot had just started construction.  Let me just say that being a college student, and the craziness of spring break, did not mesh well with me.  So, it was not until I was married, and became a mom, that a return to Florida was called for.

Vacation time saved up, two weeks would allow for seeing all we could cram in, and be able to drive to and from Florida along Interstate 95.  We crossed over massive bridges, stopped at off the highway, hole-in-the wall restaurants, and collected souvenirs for each state we passed through.  It was like a whirl wind turn of the east coast, so exciting, and, most of all, fun!  As we got further south, we began to see signs touting “Come see the 20-foot alligator”, and yes, we stopped to see.  Oh, there never was an alligator, that was just a ruse to get tourists to stop in.  However, it was not all wasted time as many of these places sold, by the bag, bushel and barrel, pecans.  Shelled, unshelled, roasted, seasoned, raw, whole, chopped, smashed; did not matter, it was pecan heaven.

Can you figure out where I am going with this now?  I bet the majority of you are saying, “pecan pie”, and you would be wrong.  Yes, pecan pie is a southern USA recipe, which supposedly originated in the late 1800s from Patti's Restaurant in Grand Rivers, Kentucky.  Of course, there are other southern states which make claim to being the first to invent the recipe.  However, it was the Native Americans who were cooking and mashing up the nuts, not just for their edible quality, but for medicinal reasons as well.

The pecan is a species of hickory tree that is native to the southern United States, and northern Mexico. Pecan originates from “pacane,” an Algonquian word that means “need stone to crack”.  While the pecan does have a hard, protective shell, they can be cracked easily using one of four methods.  Allowing the nuts to dry out, for two weeks, helps with the cracking process.  First method is placing two nuts in your palm, and then squeezing them together until you hear a “crack” sound.  Definitely a good technique for those wanting to build up strength in the hands.  Second and third methods are similar, use a store-bought nutcracker, or a hammer straight out of the toolbox.  With the hammer method, wrap the pecans in a towel before whacking at them, or they will fly everywhere. Fourth method is to boil them in water for about 15 minutes to soften the shells.  Let them cool, and the shells should peel right off; similar to the boiled peanuts that are popular in the southern states.


So, why no recipe for pecan pie from me?  Actually, it is not a favorite in our home; the overwhelming gooiness of the pie is not appealing.  Oh, one exception is if I bake up a chocolate pecan pie, as the chocolate gives a firmer texture to the filling.  No, instead, I will be giving a recipe for Brown Sugar Pecan Muffins.  These, larger than mini, but smaller than average, muffins pack a gambit of flavor – brown sugar, cinnamon, and, of course, pecans.  One of my taste testers described them as “magical”.  






Oh, and if looking for a tasty dessert idea, warm up a muffin, break it apart a bit, and serve a scoop of ice cream next to it.  The warmth will let the ice cream get melty, and the two together…perfection!






….and here is the recipe for these “magical” muffins.



Brown Sugar Pecan Muffins



1 and ¼ cups light brown sugar

3 eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted (add 3 Tbsp. for high altitude)

3 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 cup salted butter, melted

1 and ½ cups chopped pecans


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.


Combine all ingredients, except pecans, by hand, or medium speed on mixer; fold in one cup chopped pecans.


Fill each paper liner 2/3s full; sprinkle with half cup chopped pecans on top. 





Bake for 25-28 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.


Makes 16.


The 4th of July will be here before we know it.  For your celebration, bake up a batch, or two, of these muffins to celebrate the all-American nut.  Or bake up some now, there will definitely be no regrets.

Mary Cokenour



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