Pecans, native to North America, are particularly popular in the South. The nuts are often associated with the traditional pecan pie or Louisiana's famous pralines, but they're used in a wide variety of recipes, from cookies and desserts to salads and main dishes. Sugared pecans or double dipped in chocolate pecans
are delicious snacks for any occasion, and chopped pecans can replace other nuts in just about any cookie or candy recipe.
The pecan was an important part of the diet of Native Americans before the arrival of the European settlers. The first successful grafts of the pecan tree were done in 1846 by a Louisiana plantation gardener, a slave named Antoine. The cultivation of the pecan tree increased, and the technique of sowing proved to be the most effective. Today the tree is most widely cultivated in the states of New Mexico, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, and Texas, where the pecan tree is the official state tree.
Pecans are available in many forms; you'll find them vacuum-packed in jars, sealed in plastic bags, or packed in cans. For the freshest and most flavorful pecans, choose whole ones in the shell; look for nuts that are heavy for their size and don't rattle when shaken. There shouldn't be any cracks or holes in the shells. When you buy shelled pecans , look for a date on the bag or container. Shelled pecans absorb odors and turn rancid quickly, and should be stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container. Pecans also freeze very well, so if you buy more than you can use right away, store them in a moisture-proof plastic bag in the freezer. Unshelled pecans may be stored for about 3 months at room temperature.
Pecans are most popular in desserts such as pies, cookies, and candies, but also make an interesting addition to salads, stuffing’s, and other savory main or side dishes. They are also delicious whole, toasted and spiced, or covered with chocolate.
Even though pecans have a high fat content, they're a good source of potassium, thiamine, zinc, copper, magnesium, phosphorous, niacin, folic acid, iron, and vitamin B6, and also a good source of fiber. The fats are composed of 87% unsaturated fatty acids (62% monosaturated and 25% polyunsaturated). Here's a nutritional analysis from Rick Hall. It's been found recently that pecans may actually help to lower blood cholesterol levels
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