o, we’re not nuts. If you live in the South, and the holidays are just around the corner, you know that this time of year we have the potential to become a little pecan-crazed. Georgia is not the No. 1 producer of pecans – that honor belongs to New Mexico – but its crop plays a significant role in the nation’s pecan harvest. While researching for this story, I discovered all sorts of factoids. First of all, pecan trees and hickory trees are cousins, but pecans are the only nut tree native to North America.

Pecans love our long hot summers and are harvested beginning in mid-October, just in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

They are low in “bad” fat and carbs, high in fiber and a good source of vitamins and minerals. And to further confound things, they’re technically not nuts, but rather drupes – fruit with a single stone or pit, surrounded by a husk.

Pecans have a fascinating history as well. When blogger Theresa McKinney (Fueled by Wanderlust) visited Oak Alley Plantation in New Orleans, she made a discovery.

“In the early 19th century, a slave named Antoine, who lived on the plantation, became the first person to successfully graft a pecan tree. Thanks to his discovery, pecans were able to be cultivated on a large scale, while consistently producing the crop with its most desired traits. It is thanks to Antoine’s discovery that you can find pecan pie on every table at Thanksgiving, or that these nuts are such a common pantry staple,” she wrote.

While the scientific data and history are nice, all most of us care about is how tasty they are, and how many different ways they can be prepared.

From the simplistic, but divine charcuterie (like pictured on this issue’s cover featuring South Georgia’s Schermer Pecans) to desserts and entrees the options are endless.

We visited four chefs – Tim Lensch of Georgia Sea Grill, Tony Aloi of Putts and Pans, John Belechak of Palmer’s Village Café and Dave Snyder of Halyards – and asked them to provide a favorite pecan-centric recipe. We have for you breakfast from Palmer’s, a main course from Halyards, a side dish from Putts and Pans and dessert from Georgia Sea Grill.

Pecan Pie

Georgia Sea Grill

chef tim lensch

What is there left to say about pecan pie? Who can resist these sweet rounds of crunchy deliciousness with its mélange of corn syrup, honey, nuts and perhaps a smidge of bourbon? Served room temperature, or the way many prefer – slightly warm with a dollop of good vanilla ice cream or homemade whipped cream – there are few treats more comforting.

Ingredients for pie filling

• 1/2 cup sugar

• 1/2 cup local honey

• 1 cup dark corn syrup

• 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

• 3 whole eggs

• 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

• 2 Tbsp. bourbon

• 1 1/2 Tbsp. melted butter

• 1 3/4 cups toasted pecans

• 1 1/2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

Preparation | Combine all ingredients and place into a pie crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until pie is set in the center.

Ingredients for crust

• 5 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

• 2 tsp. salt

• 1 lb. unsalted butter

• 3/4 cup ice water

Preparations | Place flour and salt into a food processor and mix well. Slowly add butter and mix until incorporated. Add 1/2 cup of ice water and mix. Add remainder of water if needed. Take out of coupe and knead dough. Split dough in half and form into a disc. Wrap both pieces separately and refrigerate.

The “Big, Fluffy” Pancake with Pecans and Oats Palmer’s Village Café

chef John Belechak

There may not be a more comforting breakfast (or dinner) food than pancakes. Popular in all cultures, in the West, pancakes are usually topped with butter and maple syrup, along with a myriad of other toppings, including various fruits and nuts. Although they are a very basic food, they provide a blank canvas for creative cooks and diners. At Palmer’s Village Café, Chef John Belechak sometimes incorporates pecans into his famous pancake recipe for a tasty beginning to the day.

Pancake (dry) base

• 10 cups all-purpose flour

• 1 Tbsp. baking soda

• 1-1/2 Tbsp. baking powder

• 1-1/2 Tbsp. Kosher salt

• 4 Tbsp. sugar

Wet mix

• 10 eggs, separated

• 10 cups buttermilk

• ¾ lb. melted butter

Preparation | Beat egg whites to medium peak. Whip egg yolks with buttermilk and melted butter. Add wet mix to 10 cups dry mix a little at a time. Do not overmix - some lumps are good. Fold in whites to mixture.

Pancake batter will keep for two days, if there is some left over.

Pecan oat mixture

• 2 cups Quaker Oats

• 1 cup pecan pieces

Preparation | Lightly toast pecans (without oil – this is called dry toasting) and oats in a sauté pan until slightly brown. This brings out the natural oils in both, making them more flavorful. On a griddle or in a large sauté pan over medium heat, ladle batter onto a sprayed area of pan or griddle and cook for 3-4 minutes per side.

Once the pancake starts to bubble, top with pecan and oat mixture and spray top of crusted area with a good amount of Pam. The extra spray will help brown the crust better. Add butter and syrup if desired, and enjoy!

Pecan Crusted Verlasso Salmon Halyards Restaurant

chef dave snyder

Served over peppery mashed parsnips with shaved Brussels sprouts and licorice-laced

port wine reduction

Dave Snyder’s recipe for this salmon entrée is on point for a winter supper, especially if that supper is for someone special. Fresh salmon coated in pecans, and winter root veggies, including parsnips and Brussels sprouts, combine to produce a flavor profile that’s perfect for a cool evening at home, seated in front of the fire, glass of wine in hand.

Salmon

Preparation | Sear a portion of fish in a hot pan until golden brown, about a minute, and still raw throughout. Cool. Spread Pecan Butter on fish. Place in refrigerator until butter is solid. Place in 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until desired temperature.

Pecan Butter

• 1 cup Pecan pieces, raw

• 1 Tbsp. Unsalted butter, room temp.

• ½ tsp. Kosher salt

Preparation | Place pecans and butter in food processor and blend until a paste forms. You may need to stop the machine and move the pecan meal around the bowl to make this happen. Add salt to taste.

If you want to avoid the butter, you can toast the nuts first to bring out the oil when you blend them in the food processor next. For this dish, I prefer a butter made with raw nuts so the oils are released during the cooking of the fish.

Parsnips

• 1 lb. Parsnips, peeled and cut in a large dice

• 1 qt. Chicken stock or veggie stock

• ½ tsp. Black pepper, ground

• ½ tsp. Pink peppercorns, toasted and ground

Olive oil to taste. Salt to taste.

Preparation | In stock of your choice, bring to boil then simmer the parsnips until cooked throughout. Strain and reserve broth. You may need the broth in the puree process. Puree in food processor until smooth. Season with peppers, olive oil, and salt.

Brussels Sprouts

• 3 cups Brussels sprouts, shaved thinly

• 2 Tbsp. Bacon fat

• ½ cup Shallots, peeled and shaved

• 1 ea. Garlic clove, peeled and shaved

Preparation | Salt and Pepper to taste. In bacon fat over medium high heat, sauté all together until done. Season with salt and pepper.

Port WINE Reduction

• 1 pint Port wine, tawny preferred over ruby

• 2 oz. Sambucca

• 1 ea. Thyme sprig

• 1 oz. Shallot, peeled and shaved

• Pinch Kosher salt

Preparation | Combine all and reduce by 70% or to desired consistency. Strain and serve at room temperature.

Serve salmon over mashed potatoes, parsnips and Brussels sprouts drizzled with the port wine reduction.

Sweet Potato Casserole Putts and Pans

chef tony aloi

There is an infinite number of ways to make sweet potato casserole. Some recipes call for diced or chunked sweet potatoes, others call for the sweet potatoes to be mashed. Marshmallows are used in some and not in others. Most of them have two things in common – the aforementioned (and obvious) sweet potatoes, and a healthy portion of pecans. Tony Aloi’s offering incorporates a streusel topping and plenty of butter, pecans and marshmallows to keep everyone happy.

MASHED SWEET POTATOES

• 3 regular sized sweet potatoes

Preparation | Peel and cut sweet potatoes. Place in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and boil until tender. Drain and mash. Keep them chunky or mash them completely smooth.

ADD SEASONING

• 1/2 cup butter

• 1/2 cup brown sugar

• 1/2 cup milk

• 1 tsp. cinnamon

• 1 tsp. salt

• Pecans to taste

Preparations | Mix butter, milk, cinnamon, brown sugar and salt with mashed potatoes. This takes the flavor over the top. Adjust seasonings to taste. Sneak a few bites and see what you think. Add as many pecans as you like at this point as well. Transfer the mashed sweet potatoes to a greased casserole dish.

Brown sugar streusel

• 1/2 cup flour

• 1/2 cup brown

• 1/2 cup butter, softened

• 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preparation | Blend a quick topping of flour, brown sugar, pecans, cinnamon, salt and softened butter, and layer over mashed sweet potatoes. These sweet, salty, buttery, crunchy bites get distributed all over the sweet potatoes.

Marshmallow topping

• 1 small bag mini marshmallows

Preparation | Sprinkle on top of casserole so the surface is evenly covered.

TO FINISH

Preparation | Place casserole in 350-degree oven for 10-15 minutes – just enough to get the potatoes hot, the marshmallows toasted and the streusel set.