Pecans: Cooks offer 8 tasty ways to celebrate Alabama’s official state nut

Pecans: Cooks offer 8 tasty ways to celebrate Alabama’s official state nut
The pecan is great roasted or in desserts, but it also adds flavor and protein to salads, meats and veggies. (Brittany Faush / Alabama NewsCenter)

The pecan is Alabama’s official state nut (named so by the Legislature in 1982), in case Alabamians need an excuse to enjoy this flavorful snack in pies, tossed with some salt and roasted in the oven, added to cookies, in salads and as a topping for meats and vegetables. Alabama is blessed with an abundance of pecan farms and retailers, so be sure to buy local.

Not only do pecans taste delicious, they are an excellent source of protein and natural antioxidants, according to the Alabama Pecan Growers Association (APGA). Studies have shown that adding a handful of pecans to a low-fat, cholesterol-lowering diet can dramatically affect the impact of the diet. Some studies have shown a pecan-enriched diet can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. The following recipes offer several ways to enjoy this official state nut, from salads to desserts and even a main dish. So get cracking.


Busby’s World-Famous Pecan Squares

David Busby likes pecan pie but never wants to eat a whole piece. His winning recipe for Busby’s World-Famous Pecan Squares takes care of that problem. “With this, you can eat as little as you want and the taste is still the same,” he said. Busby found the family recipe more than 25 years ago and he’s made some tweaks along the way. “I tried to follow her recipe from what I could read and the first couple batches didn’t turn out right,” he said. “You have to use that jelly roll pan. There’s something about that pan that is critical.” Now, he adds, “I don’t get invited to Christmas or Thanksgiving or anywhere unless I bring a whole batch of these things. I cut it into squares and you can eat it like a cookie. After it cools, I stack them on a plate.”

Pecan squares provide all the delicious flavor of pecan pie in smaller portions. (contributed)

Ingredients

Filling:

  • 4 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1½ cups light corn syrup
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2½ cups pecan halves

Crust:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Instructions

Mix ingredients for crust. Grease a jelly roll pan (this is a must). Mix ingredients for the crust and press into pan. Cover entire pan, making as uniform a thickness as possible. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 24 minutes. Mix ingredients for filling in separate bowl. After crust is baked, add the filling to the top of the crust. Bake at 350 degrees for an additional 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely. Use a pizza cutter to cut 2-by-2-inch squares.

David Busby


Best Ever Grape Salad

We love our Southern pecans any way we can have them – candied, roasted and even mixed with our veggies. One of my favorite ways to make them the unexpected star of the show is with this grape salad. Creamy and bright, grape salad just screams for a bit of texture. And the Southern pecan is the icon that delivers.

Pecans add just the right amount of crunch to a creamy, refreshing grape salad. (The Buttered Home)

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces softened cream cheese
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla
  • 2 cups green seedless grapes
  • 2 cups red seedless grapes
  • 2 cups whipped cream (recipe below)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • ½ cup roughly chopped pecans

Whipped cream:

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Instructions

In a chilled bowl, mix confectioners’ sugar with heavy whipping cream. Beat with a hand mixer for 3-5 minutes until soft peaks form. Chill in refrigerator until ready to use. In a large bowl, mix cream cheese, lemon juice, sour cream, sugar and vanilla with a hand mixer until smooth.

Fold in grapes and whipped cream. In a separate small bowl, mix brown sugar and pecans. Sprinkle over top for garnish. Refrigerate.

Brook Burks, The Buttered Home


Toasted Pecans

Ingredients

1 quart pecan halves

¼ cup salt

Instructions

Place pecans in a large bowl, add salt and cover with water. Soak for 1 hour, stirring three to four times. Drain on paper towels for 1 hour. Pour onto large cookie sheet with at least 1-inch sides. Bake in preheated oven at 300 degrees until done. Check after 10 minutes and stir. Continue to cook for another 10 minutes. Stir and cook until done, about 5-8 minutes more. Be careful not to burn. No grease is used for these nuts.

Peggy Key


Pecan Chess Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 Diamond pecan pie crust
  • 2 whole eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon corn meal
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup pecan pieces, chopped
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • ½ teaspoon vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla

Instructions

Mix lightly beaten eggs, white sugar and brown sugar. Mix well after each addition. Mix in corn meal, flour, pecan pieces, milk and melted butter. Mix well, then add vinegar and vanilla. Pour into pecan pie crust and bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes. Frozen pie shells do just fine; use either deep dish (may take a little longer to bake) or a 9-inch frozen pie shell. Take pie shell out of freezer 30 minutes before baking.

Karen Harrison


Pecan Gems

Ingredients

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 2/3 cup melted butter
  • 2 beaten eggs

Instructions

Combine sugar, flour and pecans. Set aside. Combine butter and eggs. Mix well and stir into flour mixture until just moistened. Fill greased/floured mini-muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes until they test done. Remove immediately and cool on a wire rack. Note: I prefer mini-muffin paper liners. Makes 30-36.

Nancy Sites Sizemore


Pecan Crusted Chicken

Ingredients

  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted
  • ½ cup Italian-style breadcrumbs
  • ¼ cup honey mustard
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

Finely chop pecans and mix with breadcrumbs, basil and cayenne in a bowl. Salt and pepper the chicken breast, then slather with honey mustard. Coat the chicken with the pecan mixture and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes until the chicken temperature is 165 degrees.

Kirk Vantrease


Superfood Cranberry Pecan Bars

Ingredients

  • 10 ounces medjool dates, pits removed
  • 1 cup pecan halves
  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon orange extract
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon

Instructions

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Put the dates in a large food processor. Pulse until chopped. Add the remaining ingredients. Process for 1-2 minutes, until a crumbly dough forms. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Put the dough into the center of the sheet and press or roll it into a rectangle. Cut the dough into even bars or squares. Bake the bars for 30 minutes to firm them up. Cool, then store in refrigerator.

Robin O’Sullivan


Aunt Eloise’s Pecan Coconut Haystacks

Ingredients

  • 1 4-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 2½ tablespoons milk
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • ½ teaspoon coconut flavoring
  • 4 cups miniature marshmallows
  • ¼ cup shredded coconut
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped

Instructions

Whip cream cheese, milk and flavoring until fluffy and gradually add in powdered sugar, marshmallows and pecans. Add in coconut last and when combined, drop them by spoonful onto a cookie sheet and allow to cool. Haystacks should be stored in the refrigerator.

Teresa Bethune

This story originally appeared in Alabama Living magazine.

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