A Nut From America

by Mark R. Vogel

            The pecan is the only major tree nut indigenous to the Americas.  Its name comes from the Algonquin Indians.  A member of the hickory family, it originated in the southern and central United States and Mexico.  Records indicate that Native Americans were cultivating it as early as the 1500’s.

             Spanish colonists began cultivating pecans in Mexico circa 1700.  American colonists jumped on the pecan bandwagon in the 1770’s with such noted figures as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who grew them in their gardens.  During this time pecans were also being exported to Europe and the West Indies (what we now refer to as the islands of the Caribbean).  New Orleans, because of its prime location at the mouth of the Mississippi, became a key city in the distribution of pecans, in addition to many other commodities.

             The propagation and eventual commercial success of the pecan was spearheaded by the work of an African-American slave in Louisiana named Antoine.  In 1846 Antoine developed a technique for grafting superior strains of pecans onto existing seedlings.  Antoine’s clone won an award at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 and was eponymously named “Centennial.”  His efforts laid the groundwork for successful cultivation of higher quality pecans and the economic rewards that followed. 

             Pecans have a smooth tan shell and are approximately one inch in length.  Choose specimens with unblemished and intact shells that do not rattle when shaken.  They are available year round but are at their best in autumn.  Unshelled pecans can be stored up to three months.  Shelled pecans can also last three months but must be refrigerated. 

             Pecans are seventy percent fat, but eighty-seven percent of that fat is unsaturated.  Of the unsaturated fat, sixty-two percent is monosaturated, and twenty-five percent is polyunsaturated.  Unsaturated fats are purported to lower cholesterol and have other healthy properties as well.  Pecans contain a wide variety of minerals, B vitamins, Vitamin E, and are a good source of fiber.  Of course, the National Pecan Shellers Association will tell you that in addition to lowering cholesterol, pecans can reduce the risk of stroke and sudden cardiac death, prevent type II diabetes, improve prostate health and help with weight loss.  Not that these claims are completely baseless but let’s face it, they want to sell pecans.  So consider the source before going nuts.  

 

PECAN PIE

 

For the crust:

1 ½ cups flour

1/8 cup sugar

1 ½ sticks cold salted butter

Ice water as needed

For the filling:

1 cup chopped pecans

3 eggs

1 cup sugar

½ cup light corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ stick of salted butter, melted

1 tablespoon flour

Pinch of salt

 
            Add the flour and sugar to a food processor and then add the butter, one chunk at a time, and pulse just enough to incorporate it into the dough.  A coarse meal is the target consistency.  Add the water in tablespoon increments, again just pulsing the processor enough to incorporate it until a dough is formed.  Scoop it out onto a floured board and lightly knead it for about a minute.  Form the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and allow it to rest in the fridge for at least an hour.

             Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  After the dough has rested, roll it out on a floured board to fit a 9-inch pie plate.  Line the plate with the dough.  Mix all of the ingredients for the filling in a bowl until just incorporated.  Pour the filling into the pie and bake for 50 minutes or until the filling sets.  I cover the pie with aluminum foil to prevent the top from over-browning, removing it about five minutes before the pie is finished to create some color. 

 

PECAN CRUSTED SALMON

 

1 cup chopped pecans

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon paprika

Salt and pepper to taste

Two 8-oz. salmon fillets

Salted butter as needed

 

            Mix the chopped pecans with the garlic, paprika, salt and pepper.  Melt some of the butter and brush the salmon fillets with it on each side.  Coat both sides of the salmon fillets with the pecan mixture.  Heat the remaining butter in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the salmon on each side until golden brown. 

             For thicker fillets you may need to finish them in the oven.  Thus you will need to employ an oven-proof skillet.   After sautéing each side place the skillet into a preheated 400 degree oven until the fish reaches an internal temperature of 135-140 degrees. 

           

           

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