Who isn’t nuts about pecans? Straight out of the shell raw, buttered and toasted, made into butter pecan ice cream or baked into that sweet Southern delicacy known as pecan pie Pecans are powerfully palette pleasing. European settlers were introduced to the pecan by Native Americans, who were fond of the tree nut. The name pecan comes from the Algonquin language and it describes “all nuts requiring a stone to crack.” Native American tribes in the United States and Mexico used the wild pecan as a major food source during Autumn. Knowing a good thing when they saw it, American colonists quickly developed a taste for the nut.
Pecans are packed with nutrition. They contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals – including A, E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and several B vitamins. Just one ounce of pecans, about 15 halves, has more zinc than a 3.5-ounce piece of skinless chicken. Most good sources of zinc are foods of animal origin. About 60 percent of the fat in pecans is monounsaturated and another 30 percent is polyunsaturated, which makes pecans heart healthy. Research studies at Loma Linda University and New Mexico State University have shown that blood cholesterol levels are dramatically lowered when pecans are added to the diet. Some people have trouble getting the nut out of the shell in large enough pieces to make the effort worthwhile. There is an art to cracking and picking pecans. Hard shells are easier to crack, and nutmeats break less often if nuts are first soaked in warm water for several hours or overnight. If you don’t soak them, you may get more pieces than halves. You may have to weigh them down to keep some of the pecans submerged. Cleanup is easier if you do all the cracking outside. If you have an adjustable nutcracker, crack nuts of the same size before adjusting for another size. Now you are ready to go inside to pick out the nutmeats, removing all the bitter fragments of the shell. Spread the nutmeats in a shallow tray to let them stand for several hours to dry. Then package them for storage. Pecans retain good quality for up to six months in the refrigerator, but the quality will be much better if they are stored in the freezer. Ladies may want to schedule a manicure after finishing the chore of picking out pecans. The job is brutal on fingernails.
Roasting or toasting enhances the color of nuts. To toast shelled nuts, heat them in an oven at 350 degrees for 5 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Don’t overcook them. Pecans will continue to cook after they are removed from the oven.
For more information about pecans, visit Clemson University’s Home and Garden Information Center.
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