Day 256 – National Pecan Day

The pecan is the only tree nut that grows naturally in North America. All those other tree nuts are immigrants or implants. The pecan was born here. Made here. They were found in central and eastern North America and the river valleys of Mexico. In the 1600’s, Spanish colonists and Franciscans began cultivating tree plantings in Northern Mexico and the first plantings in the American colonies were planted in New York in the early 1700s.  From there, pecans became an important crop to the early settlers who appreciated the pecan for its ease of shelling, its incredible taste and its accessibility to waterways. It became a cash crop to pecan farmers which led to a booming pecan industry that continued to grow in the early 1800’s through exportation outside of North America. It became a profitable and flourishing business. All in all, it’s a pretty well documented beginning for a tree nut.

I learned all this information from a website that calls itself ILovePecans.org. That’s the affect of pecans on some – they are so good that people create websites dedicated to their love, their history and of course their recipes. I also learned a few other things from them as well:

  • The word ‘Pecan’ is of Algonquin origin and was used to describe “all nuts requiring a stone to crack.”
  • General George Washington, the pride of Mount Vernon, and his Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson (who we hear was always hesitant with the President and even reticent — there wasn’t a plan he hadn’t jettisoned) both had pecan trees planted on their famous properties. Pecans are part of or forefathers’ history.
  •  A grove is a collection of trees established by natural forces whereas orchards are trees planted by man. I always like when you discover the real definition of a word you have heard throughout your life.

That’s enough history for now, but if you are interested, there is no shortage of information. Apart from history, the pecan has a very famous reputation for just being a delicious nut. It’s often associated with the South, where pecan groves and orchards still flourish, and is used in countless recipes. There’s the whole how to pronounce pecan debate which I’ll leave alone because it’s not my battle (and I’m not sure where I fall on the debate). But it’s kind of a storied nut that brings joy to the table. That’s a dinner guest we always want at our party.

I have made a few pecan related things on this quest and there was even National Pecan Cookie Day back in September and National Chocolate Pecan Pie Day in August. I’ve probably gone through more pecans over the last 250 days than I have ever used in my life. That’s a tribute to the taste of the pecan. It just mixes well in everything and brings in its unique flavor wherever it is used. Its rich, buttery flavor is like no other and it’s why it has become a national favorite since the very first days of our country. That’s why we are celebrating this nut today – because it deserves it.

For my recipe today, I had to narrow down my search. I really didn’t want to make a pie because I’ve done that and I’m still not a huge pie fan. I could have made the cookies again because they were special when I made them back in September, but I didn’t want to do a repeat especially when there are about a million recipes from which I could choose. I instead searched online and one of the first choices I saw was from SouthernLiving.com which had a gallery of pecan recipes to choose from.  Pecans are so closely associated with the South that I figured a magazine called Southern Living would be a great source. I went with a recipe for Pecan Bars that for whatever reason just captured my interest. They had a shortbread like crust on the bottom and they were topped with a mixture of caramel and pecans. That sounded pretty awesome.

I was working at 11:30 today so the plan was to make them in the morning before work. For some reason, I woke up at the god awful hour of 5 am. Not sure what was happening – maybe it was the sun peeking in on us – but I was up and at them. I had two cups of coffee in me before Lola had even come downstairs, so I was raring to go. I got all my ingredients together and started cooking. You make the crust first which is flour, sugar, butter and pecans. They give you instructions to make this in a food processor, but I don’t have one of those. I have a small wand-type processor that can turn into an immersion blender. It works fine, just it has a smaller capacity than a regulation food processor. So I had to kind of pulse together the ingredients in the hand-processor and then combine it with the butter in a big bowl. I used melted butter and I was hoping this was allowed because the recipe seemed to call for non-melted butter, but I couldn’t pulse it together outside of the processor machine. It would have to do. It came together ok and I shaped it onto the bottom of a pan and then baked it for about 15 minutes.

It came out looking ok, so after it had cooled, I made the topping which is a combo of sugar, cream, syrup and butter and then after it all melts together, you add in vanilla and lots of chopped pecans. When all combined, you pour it over the crust and then put it back in the oven for another 20 minutes or so. It came out looking pretty tasty too. Then I let it rest. The recipe said to let it cool completely, then put it in the fridge to chill. I had Lola do that for me because it was time for me to get to work. When I got home eight hours later, I took them out of the fridge, eased them out of the pan, then cut them into bars.

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There was a lot to these bars. It was a nice combination with the cookie-like crust and the candy top. The top was nice and chewy with the sweetness of the caramel coming through and the crunchy buttery pecans present in every bite. The bottom layer was on the sweeter side and it was light with a nice soft crunch to it. It balanced out the candy-like sweetness of the top. It was perfect balance and it was delicious. I had given one to Lola as I was cleaning up and after she tasted it, she popped up to tell me they were delicious. If you like pecans, you will love these bars. I liked the delivery system here too as opposed to a pie. It was like having bite sized pecan pie ready to go. A win for sure.

I also made cupcakes today for Easter. I was inspired by my early morning coffee-fueled cooking spurt, but I made the cakes before I left for work (a mix) and then frosted them before I went to bed using the Magnolia Bakery vanilla frosting recipe (which I colored with food coloring to be festive). That’s the best frosting in the world. Period. No real reason behind making these today other than to have something to bring to Easter dinner and to just have them on hand for festive sake. But now we have two plates of cupcakes ready to be eaten.

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Pecans were once used as currency in New Orleans and a weary traveler could trade a bag of pecans for a night of lodging. That’s the kind of value pecans pack and part of their long North American history. That’s what we celebrated today and to truly celebrate a food item, you have to eat some, and so we did. It was a great new recipe too that really solves that I want pecan pie but don’t want a whole piece problem. You can just take a square (if you have a square to spare). Great for sharing and great for eating. That’s part of the allure of the pecan too. It drives us to make tasty new recipes which seems to bring people together in enjoyment and pleasure. That’s one powerful nut. Thank you pecan trees for your wonderful bounty – we will keep using your harvest to bring smiles to the world. We’ll even bake you some cupcakes.

Next up: National McDonald’s Day 

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