Big, meaty nuts work best for pies, tarts, pralines, and other sweet treats.
Pecan caramel chews.
October is the season for fresh pecans, but they aren’t easy to find at local farmers’ markets. But they are available—just look to Kaki Farms' small stand at the Berkeley farmers’ market.
Kaki Farms are known best for their pastured eggs, but farmer Nicasio Soria and his wife, Carmen, also have a stand of 600 pecan trees. They’ve been growing pecans for 12 years. “It’s always difficult to take care of them,” Soria said. “They are also expensive to plant and expensive to maintain.” When they are young, they are at their most vulnerable and require the most care. The trees also have very specific climate and soil needs—think the high summer heat and rich soil of the south-central United States, where pecans are more commonly grown.
All of these reasons put together may be why we don’t see pecans too often at the local markets.
When shopping for pecans in the shell, go for the ones that feel heavy. “Ones that are light are probably not good quality,” Soria said. Once out of the shell, pecans should look full and be dark in color, as opposed to being light and narrow. If they are less than six months old, they can be stored in a dark, cool place; they don’t need refrigeration unless they more than six months old.
Soria prefers to eat them right out of the shell, but at Picán, the Southern-inflected restaurant in Oakland’s Uptown, pastry chef Mitchell Blanco prefers the biggest, meatiest pecans and toasts them to enhance their flavor for pies and tarts.
Big, dense pecans are also best for Blanco’s favorite way to use fresh pecans —New Orleans-style pralines, which aren’t the typical brittle pralines you get in a box. “They’re simple but considered a delicacy if you do them right. They have to be eaten within a certain amount of time—between two and three hours.” When they’re done, they’re only slightly crystallized, enough to keep the clusters of pecans together.
Look for Kaki Farm nuts at the Berkeley markets on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and then put those pecans to good use by trying this simple, tasty recipe from Blanco.
Pecan Caramel Chews
From Picán’s pastry chef Mitchel Blanco.
14 ounces of pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
8 ounces butter
3/4 cup honey
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 18-by-13-inch half-sheet pans or cookie sheets
Nonstick spray or vegetable oil
Metal off-set spatula
Spray the half-sheet pans lightly with nonstick spray or lightly grease with vegetable oil. Combine all ingredients except for pecans in a heavy-bottomed pot and cook on medium heat until the candy thermometer reads 265 degrees. Gently stir in the pecans and pour mixture onto sheet pans, then spread out evenly using the spatula. Allow to cool completely before cutting into desired size.