Regional growers help to feed Southern holiday traditions.
When my grandfather left the hustle of New Orleans city life and moved to the suburbs, he had the foresight to plant nine pecan trees on his acre of land. By the time I arrived, urban sprawl had spilled into the once quiet neighborhood, but those grand pecan trees provided an oasis in the hustle of modern suburban life. Every fall, I enjoyed resting beneath its canopy, and was treated with delectable nuts.
It’s a rare Southerner who doesn’t enjoy pecans in their cooking this time of year, from chopped pecans in sweet potato mash, to the distinctive pecan pie. In fact, pecans are the perfect holiday food, harvested in the South from mid-October through December.
“I grew up around Mobile and we always had pecans at Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Jason M. Sanderson, manager of operations and finance of the Bass Pecan Company in Madison, Miss. “My grandmother used to toast pecans in the oven with butter and salt. We were all over that.”
Holidays at the Sanderson household included pecans incorporated into vegetable dishes, pecan pies, pralines, and divinity, plus the family’s traditional roasted and salted variety. And they weren’t alone.
“That’s always been a big part of Southern culture,” he said.
An idea takes root
Bass Pecan Company began more than 100 years ago in Lumberton, Miss., when founder I.E. Bass planted pecan trees in the fertile soil and began selling seedlings along with other farm products. For the first 30 to 40 years, Bass sold millions of pecan trees, Sanderson said, including the popular paper shell variety, which are easier to crack open.
“A lot of the pecan orchards in the Southeast were planted from the Bass pecan orchards,” he said.
Today, the company still sells pecan trees, but also offers tins of pecans that include praline, chocolate, “mammoth halves,” and the standard roasted and salted. The original store in Lumberton was remodeled in 2008, and–like the store in Raymond, Miss.–is open Oct. 1 through March 31. The store in Canton, Miss., (279 Soldier Colony Road) is open Monday through Friday year-round.
Jady Regard, CNO (Chief Nut Officer) of Cane River Pecan Company in New Iberia, La., said his father (Dan) and uncle (Joe) entered the pecan business in 1969. Like Sanderson, pecans were a distinct part of Regard’s family holiday traditions.
“For generations pecans have been a part of the Southern culture due mainly to the time of the pecan harvest each year,” he said. “I cannot remember a holiday without pecans, either in a pie, roasted with cocktails, or naturally from the shell. My family really loves good roasted pecans. Lately, we have been making great rosemary roasted pecans. They are impossible to put down.”
Cane River gets its name from the lush pecan orchards that grace the Cane River in central Louisiana, but the company today uses pecans from a variety of Southern locations. The climate, Regard insists, is what creates the best-tasting pecan.
“Our pecans are being sourced from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia mostly,” Regard explained. “We find that the very best-tasting pecans come from regions of the country that rely on an abundance of natural rainfall. A mixture of rain, moisture, and humidity lead to an oilier pecan, which leads directly to the taste profile of the nut. You can literally taste the difference.”
Like Bass, Cane River sells a variety of pecan treats in gift tins and boxes. Both companies also cater to corporate sales, especially during the holidays. Cane River, however, is a direct merchant, offering pecans through catalog and Web site sales.
Cooking with pecans
For visitors who could use a lesson in incorporating pecans into their cooking, the New Orleans School of Cooking teaches two multi-course classes each day that always conclude with the instruction of how to make pralines. In addition, the accompanying French Quarter store, 524 St. Louis St., sells and ships pralines made at the school. These sugary treats are created the “old-fashioned way with no preservatives,” said Gretchen Erickson, marketing manager.
Regard’s grandfather, Keith Courrégé, published a book of pecan recipes, Pecans: From Soup to Nuts, that has been reissued with the assistance of Louisiana cookbook author Marcelle Bienvenu.
Bass Pecans offers an annual pecan recipe contest that attracts hundreds, along with a blog that features innovative ways to cook with pecans.
So if you’re like me, you’ll be gathering both pecans and recipes to help plan the holiday meals.
Cheré Coen is a contributor from Lafayette, La.
Nov/Dec 2013 Issue
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