What’s Fresh in October? Go nuts!
Pecan season is here, let’s get cracking.
Story By Bailey Gilliam
One of the most argued words regarding pronunciation, the pecan, is a nut from a species of hickory trees native to northern Mexico and the southern United States. And though its pronunciation has been long debated, its taste has not. Pecans have a distinctly sweet buttery flavor and a mildly floral, foresty aroma. The outside of the nut is slightly bitter, and the flesh within is sweet, buttery and almost fatty. The nut can crumble, almost like a cookie, which is probably why they are so good in cookies. And speaking of cookies, be a smart one and learn more about this nut and how to incorporate it into your diet.
Simple and easy to make, this pecan-crusted chicken is full of flavor and crunch. Baked in the oven, it’s an effortless weeknight meal to try.
Nonstick cooking spray
1/2 cup Greek yogurt plus 2 tablespoons, divided
1/4 cup Dijon mustard plus 2 tablespoons, divided
4 tablespoons honey divided
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about 1/2 inch thick
1 1/2 cups pecans, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
Directions  Heat oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and coat with nonstick spray.  In a large bowl, mix 1/2 cup yogurt, 1/4 cup Dijon and 2 tablespoons of honey. Add chicken and let sit at least 15 minutes or up to overnight.  In a shallow dish toss together pecans, breadcrumbs, kosher salt, garlic powder, smoked paprika and black pepper. Remove chicken from the yogurt mixture, scraping off excess marinade, and add to a shallow bowl with the pecan mixture. Press firmly to adhere to the pecan mixture, turn the breast over and repeat so all sides of the chicken are completely covered.  Transfer coated chicken to a prepared baking sheet and repeat the process with the remaining pieces of chicken. Add the remaining pecan mixture to the top of the chicken and press down evenly. Coat with cooking spray.  Bake chicken in the oven until cooked through, flipping halfway through, about 20-25 minutes total.  Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl stir together the remaining 2 tablespoons of Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard and 2 tablespoons honey. Season to taste. Serve chicken with honey mustard sauce.
Great as a topping for salads, sandwiches, crostinis, ice cream–you name it–or as a tasty treat by itself, you won’t want to skip over this simple recipe for candying pecans.
1 cup pecans
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sugar
Directions  To candy pecans, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan.  Add 1/4 cup of sugar and 1 cup of pecans. Coat evenly and cook for 5-8 minutes, until the mixture is browned and slightly sticky. Be careful not to burn.  Pour on wax paper and allow to harden.
The power of pecans
Pecans are loaded with vitamins and minerals essential for healthy skin, eyes, teeth, bones, muscles and nerves. Raw pecans are even cholesterol-free, sodium-free and low in carbohydrates. They make a tasty and satisfying snack with their rich buttery flavor and natural sweetness. Raw pecans are packed with protein, healthy fats and fiber to help keep you energized and satisfied. They are a good source of calcium, magnesium and potassium, which help lower blood pressure, and their mono-unsaturated fat content is great for lowering bad cholesterol. Pecans also contain Omega-3 fats, which can help ease the pain of arthritis by reducing inflammation. The magnesium, calcium, fiber, vitamin E and zinc in pecans also give the nuts anti-inflammatory properties. Vitamin A, vitamin E and zinc support your immune system by fighting off infections and repairing damage. Pecans also provide folate, which can guard against changes to your DNA. Antioxidants can help protect the body from the cell damage that causes Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and cancers. The USDA has ranked over 100 foods by antioxidant levels, and pecans made the top 20.
The raw truth
Pecans are a great source of healthy fats but are high in calories. A serving of pecans is 1 ounce, a little less than 1/4 cup or 19 pecan halves. Roasted pecans are often coated in unhealthy oils and sugar. Read labels and choose raw pecans when possible.
Grow your own
Pecan trees easily can be your next backyard addition if you have the space and time. They’re a good investment but take 10 years to bear fruit. Just one tree will produce plenty of nuts for a large family and provide deep shade that will make hot Lowcountry summers a little more bearable. However, be sure you have the space. A mature pecan tree stands about 150 feet tall with a spreading canopy.
Plant your nursery pecan tree in a hole about 3 feet deep and 2 feet wide. Begin adding soil and when the hole is half full (or half empty), fill it with water to remove air pockets and settle the soil. After the water drains through, fill the hole with soil. Press the soil down with your foot and then water deeply. Add more soil if a depression forms after watering. Usually found along riverbanks in its native environment, the pecan likes a lot of water. Young trees need 10 to 15 gallons of water per week. As they mature and begin producing, they need about two inches of water per week from April to October.
Pecans are ready to eat when the husks crack open. Most people pick up the nuts after they fall to the ground, but be sure to get them before they rot or before local wildlife make them a snack. The nuts are generally ready for harvest in October or November, and a mature tree will produce 40 to 50 pounds of nuts per year.
Pecans you can grow here
Candy: The candy pecan is an older variety named because it was intended to be used in sweet treats. Like most pecan trees, they grow to a mature height of 70 feet or more with a 50-foot spread.
Cape Fear: Originating in North Carolina, they usually weigh about eight grams and start bearing at a young age; the kernel is attractive and light-colored and either oblong or broad oval in shape. Cape Fear pecan trees are relatively resistant to various leaf diseases, are sturdy and rigorous and have deep taproots.
Curtis: A late-season pollinizer, they produce large quantities of the nut, which is small, has a medium-thin shell and contains dark speckles on the shell. The cultivar, first introduced in Mississippi in 1914, is fairly vigorous and upright.
Desirable: You can’t get better than desirable pecans. They have medium to thick shells, and the trees can grow to a mature height of 100 feet with a 75-foot spread. The nuts ripen from late October to early November.
Mahan: Mahan pecans are soft-shelled, rich in flavor and have very large nuts. Even when the tree is young, it will bear lots of pecans and provide shade for your yard. Mahan pecans prefer dry climates and warm winters, with the nuts usually ripening in mid November.
Moreland: The Moreland pecan tree is resistant to diseases and produces high yields regularly. They originated from Louisiana and are fairly vigorous trees with dense leaves and nuts.
Schley: The Schley is one of the oldest pecan cultivars. The biggest advantage of the Schley is the paper-thin shell, which means anyone can open it easily. Often used for pecan pies, their taste is a bit sweeter than other types of pecans.
Pawnee: If you want to plant a pecan tree but have limited space, the Pawnee pecan tree might be for you. It is relatively small, only 30 feet tall and 30 feet wide. An excellent pollinator, Pawnee pecans are large and sweet.
Stuart: Stuart pecans are large, and the trees are upright and sturdy, making them low maintenance. Their medium-size nuts produce roughly 52 nuts per pound, but one of their disadvantages is that it takes eight to 10 years before the tree is of bearing age.
Sumner: Originating in Georgia, this tree is a late-season pollinizer and produces very large nuts. The kernels are sometimes darker than other types of pecans but are of high quality and very tasty.
Creek: These pecans are long and narrow at maturity. These pecan trees enjoy more shade than most and tend to grow together. This tree is resistant to widespread diseases so you can expect a healthy yield.
Oconee: The Oconee pecan is known to be one of the easiest to shell when it has matured. They are some of the earliest ready to be harvested, with most by early October. They are native to the Georgia and western Carolina areas.
Kanza: Probably one of the more popular and recognized pecans is the Kanza pecan. Ready to harvest around early September, they are darker in color and always in an elliptical shape, even if they are a bit round in the middle. They have some of the most significant yields.
Elliot: Found in Georgia, the Elliot pecans are the sweetest, giving a creamy texture when you bite them. They are dark brown and black and rounder than other varieties. They are limited and not found as frequently as others, making them a delicacy.
PRO TIP: Pecans are naturally sweet and make a good replacement for candies when sugar cravings hit. Substitute raw pecan pieces for chocolate chips by mixing them into pancake, muffin, or cookie dough. Add some crunch and protein to salads, oatmeal, quinoa, or yogurt by topping them with raw pecan pieces. And while raw is healthier, you can toast, roast, bake, sugar, spice and everything nice. There are endless recipes for pecans and endless ways to cook them up into something sweet or savory.
Move over pie, it’s time for cookies to share the spotlight.
Ingredients (butter pecans)
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed dark or light brown sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
Directions  Butter the pecans: Sauté the chopped pecans and butter in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant and toasted, about 3-4 minutes. Stir frequently and keep an eye on the small crumbs; they will brown quicker than the bigger pieces. Set aside to cool.  Brown the butter: Heat the butter in a light-colored skillet over medium-high heat. It will come to a boil. Continue cooking, occasionally stirring, until the solid particles at the bottom turn golden brown. Immediately pour into a large mixing bowl to stop the browning. Let cool slightly, about 10 minutes.  Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Whisk sugars into the cooled browned butter. Whisk in vanilla and eggs until thoroughly combined. Pour dry ingredients into a bowl and stir until no streaks of flour remain. Stir in buttered pecan.  Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic down on the surface of the dough. Chill for at least 3 hours and up to 3 days.  Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll dough into balls, about 3 tablespoons each. Place 2 inches apart on a baking sheet. Bake on the middle rack until the edges are set and just beginning to turn golden brown, about 9-12 minutes. Let rest on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.