FROM ATTIC TO BASEMENT: It’s easy to be nuts about plain ol’ pecans |
CHRISTINE PATRICK FROM THE ATTIC TO THE BASEMENT
Who isn’t crazy about pecans? Straight out of the shell, raw, buttered and roasted, processed into butter pecan ice cream or baked into this sweet Mediterranean delicacy known as the pecan cake, pecans are powerfully palette-friendly. European settlers were introduced to the pecan by Native Americans who loved the tree nut. The name pecan comes from the Algonquin language and describes “all nuts that need a stone to crack”. Indian tribes in the United States and Mexico used the wild pecan as their main source of food in the fall. American colonists knew something good when they saw it and quickly developed a taste for the nut.
Pecans are full of food. They contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals – including A, E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and several B vitamins. Just one ounce of pecans, about 15 halves, contains more zinc than a 3.5-ounce piece of skinless chicken. Most good sources of zinc are foods of animal origin. About 60 percent of the fat in pecans is monounsaturated and another 30 percent is polyunsaturated, which makes the heart of pecans healthy. Research studies at Loma Linda University and New Mexico State University have shown that when pecans are added to the diet, blood cholesterol levels are lowered dramatically.
Some people have trouble getting the nut out of the shell in pieces that are large enough to make the effort worthwhile. Cracking and plucking pecans is an art. Hard shells are easier to crack and nut flesh breaks less often if nuts are soaked in warm water for several hours or overnight. If you don’t soak them, you might end up with more pieces than halves. You may need to weigh them down to keep some of the pecans under the water. Cleaning will be easier if you do all the cracks outdoors. If you have an adjustable nutcracker, crack nuts of the same size before setting another size. Now you can go inside to find out the nut meat and remove any bitter shell fragments. Spread the nut meat in a shallow tray to allow it to dry for a few hours. Then wrap them up for safekeeping. Pecans keep good quality in the refrigerator for up to six months, but the quality is much better when stored in the freezer. Women may want to plan a manicure after completing the task of picking out pecans. The job is brutal on fingernails.