Food & Drink

Bumper Crop: Pecans

Fresh pecans peak just in time to be the star of your holiday spread

Photo: Adobe Stock

Pecans are a long-standing Southern staple. The trees were a favorite of colonists in the 1700s—Washington and Jefferson both planted them—and today, nearly half of the nation’s pecan crop comes from Georgia. And while pecan pie is always welcome on a holiday table, it’s not the only way to use the versatile nut. “We order them by the case and keep them in the freezer,” says Charleston, South Carolina–based recipe developer Jenni Lata. “On pizza night, I add a handful to a white pizza with onion jam and rosemary. Homemade pecan butter is a staple in the fridge. We slather it on toast or bananas for the kids, add a dollop to smoothies, swirl it into yogurt bowls, or dip a small piece of dark chocolate in it as a late-night treat. I also keep at least two quarts of savory pecan granola in the freezer at all times, which goes on everything from salads to pancakes.” 

Pecan season peaks October through January, so now’s the time to stock up at a nearby grove. If that’s not an option for you, the chefs we spoke to advised skipping the less fresh grocery store nuts (which lack flavor), and instead order from a local grower. Shelled nuts will keep for three months at room temperature and for up to two years in the freezer. So grab ’em now and you’ll have all the nuts you need to tackle any savory or sweet pecan recipe—including these G&G favorites.

1. Pecan Hand Pies

There’s one item that never comes off the ever-rotating menu at FARM restaurant in Bluffton, South Carolina: The hand pies. “I wanted to be able to share the pie crust that my mom, Genevieve, has become famous for,” says executive chef Brandon Carter. “I felt like doing the hand pie version would give us the most delicious and fresh-out-of-the-oven feel.” While he offers a variety of flavors, his pecan hand pies are especially beloved. Rather than use corn syrup in the filling, Carter swaps in cane syrup for a more Lowcountry feel. The pecans, though, are the real star. “I love the toasty fattiness and that they’re texturally interesting,” he says. “There’s nothing more quintessentially Southern than a pecan.”

See recipe here.

2. Pecan-Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish-Pecan Sauce

In the South, pecans are most often found on the dessert table, but the versatile nut can be a secret weapon in savory dishes, too. “The Italians readily use walnuts and hazelnuts in savory applications; cashews often play the creamy foil in spicy Southeast Asian dishes; the French use chestnuts like a root vegetable and almonds with fish,” says Jenni Lata, who created this dish for Schermer Pecans in Thomasville, Georgia. “For some reason, we have pigeon-holed pecans into the baking aisle, but they are a wonderful ingredient that really belong in the produce section.” In this recipe, Lata uses pecans two ways: To crust the garlic-slathered meat and to enhance the chilled horseradish sauce served alongside the tenderloin.

See recipe here.

3. Pecan Grits with Roasted Squash & Brown Butter 

It’s unsurprising that Putt Wetherbee, the fifth-generation owner of Schermer Pecans, always keeps a bowl of roasted-and-salted pecans on hand at his house. “I never tire of them,” he says. This recipe for pecan grits is among his favorite ways to use the nut. “It tastes like fall in a bowl,” he says. 

See recipe here.

4. Pecan Caramel Cake 

When someone walked into Virginia’s heralded Red Truck Bakery and asked the owner to recreate the caramel cake recipe of a beloved local baker who had passed away, owner Brian Noyes was more than up for the challenge. “I had been digging through my grandmother’s collection of recipes while resurrecting heirloom desserts for my rural Virginia bakery, hoping to find some kind of long-lost cake that needed a little light shone on it,” Noyes says. “But so far I was flummoxed.” With a little help from fashion designer Billy Reid and a lot of experimentation, this epic caramel cake with pecans—and onetime G&G cover model—was born.

See recipe here.

5. Bourbon Pecan Pie 

Pecan season peaks in the South just as the holidays roll around, so it’s no surprise that the beloved pecan pie is an annual fixture at family gatherings. This recipe from Hilary White, the chef and co-owner of Bistro Hilary in Senoia, Georgia, uses White’s grandmother’s crust recipe. But the chef adds her own twist to filling: A hit of bourbon. “It has the same flavor nuances of the dark corn syrup and makes the pie even more Southern.”

See recipe here.