The house I live in has five pecan trees in the yard.
I write about this a lot—if you, too, have five pecan trees in your yard, you probably understand why. One pecan tree’s harvest is a project; five pecan trees are a force to be reckoned with. And several years ago, in the midst of my first major pecan season at this house, surrounded by five-gallon buckets and paper grocery bags full of pecans, I acquired Terry Scott Bertling’s Cooking With Pecans: Texas in a Nutshell (1987). This, I figured, could help me make a dent.
The first thing I need you to know about this book is that it has a pecan pie recipe on the back. In the immortal words of Rihanna, this is what you came for, and Bertling knows it. The Texas State professor is a veteran journalist whose newspaper background includes the San Antonio Express-News, El Paso Herald-Post, and the Huntsville Item, which is where she was working when she wrote this book after her parents purchased a pecan farm in Emory, in East Texas (her father, now 85, still runs the business). There are seventeen recipes for pecan pie in the book, including one with apricots, one with raisins, one with coconut, and one with a buttermilk base, but the recipe on the back is the classic. Just a simple shortening crust and a traditional pecan pie filling.
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Of course, you don’t buy a whole book of pecan recipes if all you’re going to make is pie. I said there are five trees: it is a serious pecan situation, and Cooking With Pecans has solutions for any time of day. There are cheese balls and candied pecans for the cocktail hour; pecan-stuffed finger sandwiches and cucumbers for tea-time. There is a pecan coleslaw with carrots and raisins that you can bring to your next cookout, or perhaps a pecan potato salad with pickles and diced hard boiled eggs is more your speed. For dinner, there are French-inspired pecan crepes, pecan-stuffed pork chops, and pecan-crusted fish. For brunch, pecan cheddar apple quiche with pork sausage, or pecan hot cakes if you have a sweet tooth. Brave vegetarians can try the ominous-sounding Pecan Loaf, or play it considerably safer with pecan-laced mac ‘n cheese.
There are pecan facts, history, and lore scattered throughout the book: Why is San Saba the Pecan Capital of the World? It was the county seat of the largest pecan-producing county in the state in 1979, when the title was issued. How does one grow the best pecans possible? Plant them in well-drained soil, and be patient—pecan trees can take as long as nine years to begin producing. What’s the best way to shell them? Ultimately, whatever works best for you.
Soon I will be moving away from my pecan grove home to a new one: a house with one solitary pecan tree. Pecans will, hopefully, become a treat instead of a chore. But should there be a bumper crop some year, I’ll know which book to turn to. And these pecan-laced cookies will be at the top of my baking list.
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar, plus extra for dusting
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup chopped pecans
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Add milk and vanilla. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar, and then add into the creamed mixture. Add the chopped pecans. Shape dough into 1-inch balls, roll in extra sugar, and flatten slightly. Set the cookies 2 inches apart on cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.