While driving through Mississippi recently, my family noted the various pecan vendors that have popped up in gas station parking lots and other spots along the roadsides.
As a person born to natives of upstate New York, I used to pronounce pecan like “PEE-can.” A few years ago when we moved to North Carolina, a former sheriff and farmer told me it’s “pee-KAHN.” In certain parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi, you’ll find people pronounce it as “pick-AHN.”
No matter what you may call it, this nut is a versatile and important part of America’s food history and cuisine.
The pecan tree is native to North America. The trees have been in the southeastern United States for more than 100 million years. Mississippi has some of the highest concentrations of wild pecan trees in the U.S., according to the Mississippi Encyclopedia.
Mississippi is one of the top 5 producers of pecans. If conditions are favorable, Mississippi pecan growers produce between 3 million and 4 million pounds of pecans per year. National production is usually around 300 million pounds annually but can vary greatly, according to the American Pecan Council.
Pecans require immense patience, as it takes nearly 10 years before a pecan tree is in full production of nuts, according to the American Pecan Council. Fortunately, the tree — the largest member of the hickory family — can produce nuts for 100 years or more.
I have quite a few pecan trees in my yard. The trees can produce several varieties of nuts that vary in length, shell thickness and in taste. I like paper pecans because the nut is a bit more like a circle or shortened oval, and the shell is thinner, making it easier to open.
If you have some pecans that you don’t want to shell yourself, you can go to Shady Grove Pecan Company, which has several locations throughout the Golden Triangle, to get that project knocked off your to-do list.
Because of their high fat content, shelled pecans tend to have a short shelf life — as little as two months. Pecans keep for four months in the shell and for years in the freezer.
Fresh pecans smell and taste good. When they spoil, they turn rancid and smell or taste sharp and strong.
While I love a good pecan pie, I thought we might explore a few different ways to use America’s native nuts. The first one is a little complex, as you use a food processor to make pecan “milk” for overnight oats. The other two pair pecans with vegetables to make some great international dishes. My kids really love the sesame pecan green beans.
Enjoy your culinary adventure!
PECAN COFFEE CAKE OVERNIGHT OATS
2 cups pecan pieces
3 cups water
1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups oats
6 tablespoons chia seeds
1 tablespoon avocado oil
■ Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread pecan pieces out evenly on a parchment-lined pan and toast for 15 minutes, until golden brown and fragrant. Set aside one-third of the nuts, a little less than three-quarters of a cup.
■ Add the remaining nuts to a dry blender. Pulse until a rough pecan flour forms. Remove half of the flour from the blender; set aside.
■ Add to the remaining flour in the blender 1/2 cup coconut sugar, vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Blend until a smooth pecan “milk” forms.
■ In a large bowl, stir together chia seeds and oats. Pour pecan “milk” over oats and chia. Stir.
■ Roughly chop the remaining whole toasted pecan pieces. Add chopped pecans to a small bowl with the set-aside pecan flour, 2 tablespoons coconut sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and avocado oil. Stir to create a crumble topping.
■ Store overnight oats mixture in the refrigerator separately from crumble topping. When ready to serve, top the overnight oats with the crumble, or layer in a parfait glass. Overnight oats will be ready after 1 hour, or when chia seeds have become gelatinous. They will last in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
VEGETARIAN SPICED PECAN TAQUITOS
2 cups pecan pieces, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil and more to brush tortillas
3 cups fresh or frozen cauliflower rice
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup tomato paste
3/4 cup water
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3 cups shredded cheddar
20 small corn tortillas
Salsa, sour cream, or other condiments of choice
■ Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
■ In a skillet over medium heat, warm with a drizzle of olive oil.
■ Add the cauliflower rice. Sauté until brown at edges, about 5 minutes.
■ Add the chopped pecan pieces, cumin and chili powder and toast until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.
■ Add water, tomato paste, onion powder, garlic powder and salt. Stir until well combined and warmed through.
■ Warm tortillas in the oven, about 30 seconds.
■ Add a thin line of pecan mixture down one side of the tortilla, followed by a sprinkle of cheese.
■ Roll tightly. Place seam-side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
■ Brush rolled tortillas with olive or avocado oil to lightly coat the side facing up and bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden at edges. Serve with salsa, sour cream or condiments of choice.
CHARRED SESAME PECAN GREEN BEANS
1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (or any high-heat oil you like)
12 ounces trimmed fresh green beans
1/2 cup pecan pieces
■ In a small bowl, add soy sauce, sesame oil and maple syrup and stir.
■ In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine the fresh green beans and ¼ cup of water. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave until the beans are just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and pat dry with a paper towel.
■ In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat until very hot (a drop of water should sizzle when it hits the pan). Add the green beans and cook, without stirring, until charred on one side, about 3 minutes. Stir and continue cooking until beans are charred all over, about 3 more minutes.
■ Remove the skillet from heat and add the sauce mixture and pecans, tossing repeatedly to coat.