Pecans, named pakans by Algonquin
Indians because of their hard shell, are a native American nut. They are a
member of the hickory family and grow in temperate climates. The third ranking
crop in the United States, pecans are cultivated in the States of Georgia,
Oklahoma, and Texas. They are at their peak when harvested in the fall, but are
available year round.
A smooth, reddish-brown, one-inch (2.54 cm) long oval shell
encloses two golden-brown crinkled lobes with ivory-colored meat. Pecans have a
buttery, soft-textured, slightly bittersweet taste that is enhanced when
toasted. Place pecans on a baking sheet and bake for 6-8 minutes in a 350
degree F (180 degree C) oven until lightly browned. Cool before using.
Pecans are used in pastries and
desserts such as the famous Southern pecan pie, quick breads, cakes, cookies,
candies, pralines and ice creams.
Pecans are one of the more expensive
nuts and are sold shelled, either coarsely chopped or in halves, or unshelled.
When buying unshelled pecans, look for clean, unblemished, uncracked shells that
do not rattle when shaken.
Their high fat content (over 70%) causes them to
go rancid quickly so store in the refrigerator (3 months) or freezer (6 months)
in airtight containers or plastic bags.