By Janice Hall, Regional Extension Agent

It is fall and that means it is time to begin gathering those delicious and nutritious pecans for show-stopping dishes and desserts at the dinner table this holiday season.

Pecans can be used in many ways to enhance your meals and your health. They are available year-round and are freshest the month after harvesting season in the fall.

After that, they will slowly begin their decline into rancidity.

When you are cooking with pecans, you want to use the best quality to yield the best dishes.

Purchasing and storage

First, you have to make sure you pick them right.

Purchase unshelled nuts that feel heavy for their size, uncracked and free of blemishes. Give the nut a shake. If they rattle in the shell, avoid them. Rattling is an indication of age and will not yield the best quality of pecan.

Next, be sure to store them properly. It is OK to store unshelled pecans at room temperature; however, the shelf life will only be about three months.

For longer keeps, refrigerate them for up to six months. Make sure they are sealed tightly in a ziplock bag or plastic storage container.

For the ultimate life of your pecans, store them in the shell or shelled in a plastic storage container for up to one year in the freezer.

Some pecans have kept longer than that under ideal conditions. Also, weigh the options of fresh or shelled.

Since pecans have such a high oil content, it is best to purchase pecans in the shell as they can turn rancid more quickly than other nuts with lower oil content.

And remember, they will absorb odors and flavors, so always keep in a closed container.

You can also can your pecans. That means you can process them in a pressure canner to preserve them.

Here are some important steps to take to do so:

•Hot Pack (dry): Shell nuts. Spread a single layer of nut meats on baking pans and place in a 250-degree F oven.

Stir occasionally, heating only until the nut meats are dry but not browned.

Watch carefully that they don’t scorch. Pack hot nuts into half-pint or pint jars, leaving 1/2- inch headspace.

Do not add any liquid to the jars. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids and process.

•Option 1: Process in a boiling water canner with the water in the canner 1–2 inches below the tops of the jars: pints and half-pints for 30 minutes.

•Option 2: Process in a dial gauge pressure canner or in a weighted gauge canner at the following pressures dependent upon altitude: pints or half pints for 10 minutes.

(Source: University of Georgia Cooperative Extension System.

Pecan Cooking Tips

Now that we have picked and properly stored the pecans, it’s time to cook with them.

Here are some cooking tips and recipes:

•Toasting pecans will bring out their aroma and add crunchiness. To toast, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spread pecans on a cookie sheet. Bake about five minutes or until lightly browned and aromatic.

•Ground into a meal. Pecans are used as a wonderful flavoring additive to breads, cookies and other baked goods. Care must be taken when grinding your own pecan meal at home since the high oil content can turn the meal almost into butter if done too fast and too quickly.

Nutrition of pecans

Pecans are as nutritious to eat as they are delicious. These delicate nuts are excellent sources of protein and contain energy-producing nutrients called carbohydrates.

The fat found in pecans is mostly polyunsaturated and contains no cholesterol.

Pecans add fiber to your diet and contain iron, calcium, vitamins A, B and C, potassium and phosphorous.

Pecans also add flavor and a delighted crunchiness to a variety of foods. Adding 10 large pecan halves to your salads, toppings, vegetables, meat dishes and desserts will only add 65 nutritious calories to your diet.

(Source: www.


•Chicken Salad with Pecans

5 pounds chicken breast meat, cooked and pulled

1 3/4 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 1/2 tablespoon honey

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

Boil chicken breasts and remove bones. Shred and thoroughly cool cooked chicken. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Add salt and pepper. To make salad sweeter, you may add more honey. Serve on a bed of lettuce. Serves 10.

•Banana Pecan Pancakes

Makes: 12 pancakes

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes


1 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 cup thinly sliced bananas

Maple syrup or honey

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1-1/2 cups buttermilk

2 large eggs

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Place the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Stir to combine. In a small mixing bowl, beat together the buttermilk, oil and eggs until well blended. Add buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just smooth. Fold in the bananas and pecans.

Heat a lightly greased griddle or large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until hot, or until a few drops of water dance on the surface.

For each pancake, ladle about 1/4 cup of the batter onto the hot griddle. Cook for about two minutes, or until the top is covered with bubbles and the edges look dry. Turn the pancakes and cook for one to two minutes more, or until the undersides are brown. Keep warm in the oven before serving. Serve with maple syrup or honey.

•Buttery Bites

1 cup chopped pecans

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 pound butter (2 sticks)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 16-ounce box powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F

Combine all ingredients except for powdered sugar. Roll into small balls. Bake for 20 minutes. Roll immediately in powdered sugar.

(Source: The Food Network

Janice Hall is a Regional Extension Agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.