Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spiced Vanilla Pecans

Growing up I ate hundreds, if not thousands, of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but I wouldn't eat a peanut, and I honestly cannot remember ever eating any other kind of nut. I even avoided baked goods that contained them. Hmmm... maybe that's why I started doing my own baking! Well, after years of nut-avoidance I got a bee in my bonnet, as Grandma would say, and I followed a recipe using pecans. To my surprise, I liked them and have been sneaking them into everything from oatmeal to chicken strips ever since! While I've tried pretty much all the different nuts now, the only one I keep on hand is the pecan.

There are over 500 varieties of pecans grown around the world, with the United States making up 95% of the industry. Native American Indians were using pecans long before European settlers arrived. They used pecan oil for seasonings, ground pecans to thicken stews, cooked pecans with beans and roasted pecans were packed for nourishment on hunting trips.

Most pecan trees grow best in the moist soil of the humid, coastal regions, but there are varieties hardy enough to withstand the negative temperatures, snow and ice of northern regions.
Although pecans are a major commercial nut crop, they are not eaten much outside of America. Europeans were already enjoying the walnut, long before the pecan was discovered.

Pecan trees can take 10 years before they begin to produce nuts, like the Stuart variety, or they can produce as early as the first year, as in the case of the Desirable Pecan variety.

Since pecan trees ripen in the fall, harvesting will usually begin in mid-October and continue through November or even December. To harvest the pecans, the trees are shaken until the nuts fall off. Commercial shakers are attached to the tree trunk and as they shake and vibrate the tree, the nuts fall to the ground for collecting. The nuts are extricated from their outer husks and then sorted. Fresh pecans are then air dried for two to three weeks before storing.

Shelled pecans will begin to turn rancid when exposed to light and oxygen, so if you need to store them for more than a month, freezing them is the best option. It is suggested that they be used within a year of freezing, but they have been known to last several before quality is compromised.

The largest pecan tree in the state of Georgia, and possibly the largest pecan tree in the world, is known as the TyTy Big Pecan Tree and measures 15 feet and 5 inches around the trunk!

One of my favorite treats is found at a little country store in Boise, Idaho. They have what looks like a commercial popcorn maker but it just holds some pretty purple, wax-papered cones that are filled with the most addictive nuts! These sweet and spicy pecans (or walnuts) have a slightly crystallized sugar coating over a tender, but crunchy nut. I love this recipe posted to by Mirj (, that gives me the tender but crunchy texture I’ve been looking for. They’re so easy to make, just plan ahead because the secret is allowing the nuts to marinate in the sugar mixture for 12 hours before baking. I like to use my own homemade vanilla for this recipe.

Spiced Vanilla Pecans
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TinksTreats by Lorilyn Tenney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License