Every fall, the southland gets peppered with pecans, all the way from Georgia's acres of orchards to the backyard trees planted by generations past, which yield pies and spicy roasted nut snacks.
For people who love pecans, there is no substitute. Those same people have learned to incorporate their favorite American nut into a wide range of recipes and applications. They say to not do so — to not embrace the versatility of the pecan — is, well, nuts.
"People certainly associate the pecan with Christmas, the holidays — but it's so versatile it can be used year-round," says Jady Regard, who grew up in the family pecan business along Louisiana's Cane River.
His late grandfather, Keith Courrege, was known throughout Louisiana for his cooking, and the pecan was a favorite ingredient. In Louisiana, it shows up in everything from seafood to cocktails — a sentiment shared across the state line in Georgia, which is the leading pecan producer in the United States. (This year's harvest is expected to be around 309 million pounds, up about 60 percent from last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.)
Courrege's recipes were the inspiration for the new book Pecans from Soup to Nuts,by Keith Courrege and Marcelle Bienvenu (Pelican Press, $19.95). "What we wanted to do with this book is just everything imaginable with the pecan," Regard says.
Louisiana cooking icon Marcelle Bienvenu updated some classic pecan recipes, but then took Regard's request to heart: If it can be done with a pecan and taste good, have at it.
The book includes classics, without which any pecan book would be inadequate: sugared pecans, pralines and what Regard says is truly the best pecan pie he's ever tasted.
It's beyond the expected recipes that the book really gets interesting. The flavor of the nut is infused into appetizers, main dishes, side dishes and a martini cocktail. The recipes are simple and don't require gymnastics in the kitchen. The food is straightforward, and the nut is indeed the star.
Pecans are used in a variety of ways, ranging from meal to crust fish or chicken to the base for cream of potato soup. And yet there aren't so many spices or seasonings that the pecan gets lost. After all, they aren't cheap, and it would be a crime for the mellow, rich flavor to compete for attention.
And the recipes take the pecan beyond the fall season, with summertime pastas and salads. There's a reliable blend of light and hearty, elegant and rustic. All in all, as versatile as the nut itself.