Pecans easy to love, sweet or savory

  • Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 3:50 p.m., Updated: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 4:37 p.m.
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Charlotte Observer food editor Kathleen Purvis' dedicated pecan cookbook, from which many of the below facts are drawn, starts with a freezer and ends with a microwave. The unpretentious nut is admirably easy to handle: Once shelled, pecans are good to eat - although salt, butter and sugar don't hurt if you're set on roasting them.

But pecan pie, pralines and sweet potato casserole notwithstanding, pecans don't always have to lean sweet. Here, a savory recipe from Peninsula Grill's chef Graham Dailey, and seven things to keep in mind when you're grinding pecans for the sauce.

1. Technically, pecans can grow anywhere in South Carolina, although zinc deficiency, the pecan weevil and scab mildew can prevent a tree from thriving. Since pecans rely on the wind for pollination, springtime rains, such as the storms of 2013, can result in a poor harvest.

2. Pecans were extraordinarily important to native Americans, including tribes which routinely subsisted on the nut for months at a time.

3. Before the word "pecan" migrated to English from a native American language (which language remains a subject of scholarly debate), pecans were known as Mississippi nuts or Illinois nuts. What to call pecans hasn't been fully settled since George Washington referred to a "poccon": Merriam-Webster's dictionary lists three acceptable pronunciations.

4. According to the USDA, pecans contain more a antioxidants than any other tree nut. There's also evidence that pecan consumption reduces LDL, or "bad" cholesterol.

5. Pecans burn easily. Purvis suggests toasting them in a dry stovetop skillet, instead of hiding them away in the oven.

6. Commercial shelling equipment entered the marketplace in 1920, but buying unshelled pecans is usually cheaper. And the nuts last longer.

7. China has developed an insatiable appetite for pecans since the price of walnuts went up. U.S. pecan exports to Hong Kong surged by 64 percent in 2012.

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