Pecans are part of the hickory family, which means they aren't really nuts at all, but a fruit. In North America, Native Americans ate pecans long before the Europeans arrived. Their name comes from an Algonquin word that means "nuts requiring a stone to crack." Pecans are high in protein, unsaturated fats and omega-6 fatty acids.
How to prepare
Pecans are the foundation of pralines, and they're found in pie and other desserts such as candied pecans, pecan cookies and pecan cake. However, that doesn't mean they aren't good in savory recipes — pecans can be found in trail mixes and often are used to flavor meat or rice dishes.
They can be bought shelled or unshelled. Make sure shelled pecans don't rattle around when you pick them up, and try to find heavy, crack-free nuts. If you buy unshelled nuts, they will keep for about three months in a dry, sealed container. Shelled pecans will keep for up to six months in the fridge.
Pecans are native to the southern United States and northern Mexico, where they grew wild for thousands of years before becoming a farmed crop; pecan trees can live and produce for up to 300 years. They've made appearances throughout American history: Thomas Jefferson grew pecans at Monticello; George Washington grew them at Mount Vernon; and the pecan tree became the state tree of Texas in 1919 after Gov. James Stephen Hogg requested that a pecan tree be planted over his grave instead of using a tombstone.
"This recipe is both dairy and egg-free — we use flax seeds as a replacer for eggs in this recipe," says Ingrid Schatz, senior bakery manager at Ellwood Thompson's Local Market. "So on the health scale of most holiday pies, this one ranks fairly high."
Ellwood's Derby Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie
1 cup of all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tablespoons of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/3 cup of Earth Balance margarine, chilled and cut into cubes
1 1/2 tablespoons of cold water
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Sift together the flour, sugar and salt. Transfer to a food processor, add the margarine and pulse until crumbly. Add the water and pulse until the dough just comes together. Turn it onto a clean work surface and briefly knead until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Form into a ball and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until ready to use. Once the dough has chilled, roll it out on a floured surface and place in a 9-inch pie pan. Trim and crimp the edges, and prick the bottom with a fork. Line with parchment paper or foil and weigh the paper down with beans or pie weights. Bake for 10 minutes until the crust appears dry, with the edges beginning to brown. Remove and cool.
2 tablespoons of flax meal, or ground flax seeds
6 tablespoons of water
1/3 cup of Earth Balance margarine, melted
2/3 cup of brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup of all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup of pecan pieces, toasted
1 cup of dark chocolate chips, melted
3 tablespoons of bourbon
1/4 teaspoon of salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the flax-seed meal and the water together in a small bowl and set aside until it becomes thick and resembles the goopy texture of eggs. In a separate bowl, mix together the brown sugar, flour, salt and pecans. Add the margarine and bourbon to the chocolate and stir together. Incorporate the chocolate mixture into the pecan mixture and then add the flax meal. Once everything is incorporated, spoon into the prepared pie shell and bake 25 minutes or until just set.
Serve at room temperature.