Filed under: in the kitchen
One of the loveliest things about being with family is spending time around a table together. On Thanksgiving Eve, I sat at the dining room table with my grandmother and my aunt, shelling pecans that my grandmother had been gathering from the trees in the front yard. She’s been picking them up for a few weeks now and she’s got buckets of ’em. Despite pecans being $10 a pound or something similarly ridiculous, you literally cannot give them away if they are still in the shell. The way my grandmother tells it, she’s been calling up neighbors and extended family members offering up the goods. Upon hearing they’re not yet shelled, everyone says, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Apparently, no one wants pecans badly enough to go through the hassle of shelling them themselves. But I had a vested interest in shelling some pecans – I was going to give them as a gift to one of my coworkers, who was generously watching over my cat while I was away.
I wasn’t very fast at it. But I was good at getting the halves out whole. And I had the pleasure of the company of my grandmother and aunt, who sat with me, lent their hands, and made the process seem homey and comforting. It reminded me of summers past, when my grandmother, my great aunts, and various neighbors would gather in the breezeway with a cold Pepsi and methodically work their way through bushels of peas, beans, or whatever was coming off the vine that week. There’s something to be said for community.
I decided to take my gift one step further by toasting the pecans with various seasonings. But after perusing my options online, I couldn’t make up my mind which single recipe to use. So I used two – one called for tossing the pecans with spices and roasting them in the microwave, the second called for meringue and baking. My grandmother, not to be outdone by online recipes, decided to add a third recipe – deep fried pecans – to the delight of my aunts and uncles who had not had her fried pecans in years.
Sugared, Roasted Pecans
1 lb. pecan halves
1/2 c. butter
2 egg whites
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place stick of butter in/on cookie sheet, then place in oven until butter melts. While butter is melting, beat egg whites until stiff. Beat sugar and cinnamon into egg whites. Stir in pecans until coated. Spread coated pecans throughout the pools of melted butter on the cookie sheet, and bake for 30 minutes, stirring until all butter and sugar mixture is gone. Watch carefully so they will not burn.
The sugared, roasted pecans turned out by far the tastiest. We pretty much could not stop eating them. But they were also the most work, and took the longest to cook.
Deep Fried Pecans
No real recipe here, just general instructions. Pour an inch of canola or vegetable oil in a skillet and heat over high flame. Once the oil is hot, add a single layer of pecans. Fry for one to two minutes, stiring/tossing the pecans regularly, and watching carefully so they don’t burn. They will darken to a deep golden color. Lift them out with a slotted spoon, drain well on paper towels, and salt generously.
The fried pecans had a deliciously complex, smokey flavor and a brittle, flaky texture. I immediately understood the family loyalty to my grandmother’s recipe. Do try this at home.
The last recipe, while third in the taste testing, was by no means shabby (it’s just that the first two were so sublime). Microwave roasted pecans are convenient to make and they taste good. My other grandmother used microwave roasting on pecans prior to dipping them in semi-sweet chocolate to make candy – it created a flavor worth fighting over the last piece for. It’s also a quick method – good for elevating your pecans to party level in a limited amount of time.
Spiced, Roasted Pecans
2 tbsp. melted butter
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2-1 tbsp. water
Mix ingredients well. Add 2 cups raw pecan halves and toss until coated. Spread on microwave safe glass plate. Microwave on high 2 minutes, stir; 1 minute, stir; 2 minutes, stir. Lay out on wax paper to cool.
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