Monday, October 22, 2012

Candied Pecans

One day pecans just started raining down on my patio.

"Free food is falling from the sky!" I thought as I heard that sweet thump and roll, "Jackpot."

Was it some sort of miracle? Or was there a simpler explanation? Garden variety magic, maybe an enchanted patio situation? Either way, let's dial back the expectations. Magic and miracles aren't like they appear on TV*, there's real life baggage that comes with that shit.

I would trade all of this for a ham
Look, if I really do have a magic patio - and admitedly, that is a very exciting prospect - how do I make sure I stay ahead of the curve and, if not harness and appropriate its freaky powers, at least learn how to anticipate them? I don't want to get into a situation, like with a monkey paw that grants wishes, where I'm ostensibly benefitting from the object, but the object is really controlling me because I'm not ready to handle the responsibility inherent in fostering the freaky monkey paw powers, or whatever. I don't want to become a short story plot device, bro.**

Second, on the matter of my pecan windfall being a possible miracle - can I exchange the miracle at all? Before you ask, I do not have a receipt. Hopefully, it's like Kohl's and I can just bring it back.... or? Don't misread me here - love, love, love the free pecans. But if there was an option to trade up to say... I don't know... a Virginia ham, I'd want to know about it. Pecans are great, but I feel like the ham is clearly a better deal (I'm also incredibly hungry for ham right now). Miracle or not, I want the best deal available. I'm looking to not get raped, OK? 

Update: It was not a miracle. Fair enough. Rape whistle back in storage.

So what gives? Turns out, pecans grow on special trees and these "pecan trees" live everywhere. It's weird. I mean, I knew the pecan tree was the Official National Tree of the Great State of Texas***, but I thought that was just a name. See, I'm from the suburbs, so the idea of plants - particularly indigenous ones, which are quite rare in the suburbs - yielding a food source is pretty foreign to me. I thought food plants grew on farms, in neat rows. Crazy.

(l-r) natural pecan, 'roided out freak pecan
Update: Fuck you nature, I was right. I'll never doubt you again, factory farms! 

These "nature" pecans were shit - tiny, malnourished, brittle. If this is what East Dallas pecans are like, I guess I won't be trying the neighborhood venison or feral pork. Nuts!

Speaking of nuts, I bought the ones for this recipe at the store like a normal person. And you don't be a hero either. Pecans start falling on your property, let the squirrels eat that poison. Get your ass inside, where it's safe and there's high speed internet, and make this recipe to take your mind off the fact that you almost foraged like a common hipster person raised by monkeys.

Note: The butter is really what makes this. I don't want to ruin anything, but it makes them taste buttery and it's awesome as shit.

Candied Pecans
2 cups pecan halves
scant 1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
pat of butter
tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne powder
coarse salt

(l-r) a photo of some stuff, another photo of different stuff
1. Toast the pecan pieces over medium low heat until dark and fragrant, 4-5 minutes. Stir them around every 30 seconds or so. Nuts are delicate (too easy) and they scorch easily, so you want to keep them moving. Let them cool to room temperature and place in a bowl.
2. Over medium high heat, stir together brown sugar, water, cinnamon, chili powder, cayenne and butter. Stir constantly for 4-5 minutes, until the wake left by stirring leaves wispy threads (just keep stirring, it’s exactly what it sounds like).
3. Pour mixture over toasted pecans. Gently stir until pecans are well coated. Pour out onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment or wax paper (finally, a use for wax paper!) to cool, separating any pieces that are stuck together. Sprinkle with coarse salt.
4. Your journey may end at step three. Mine did not. After cooling down for over an hour, my pecans were still quite sticky. Five minutes in a 300 degree oven and another few minutes of cooling down fixed that.

Photograph of candied pecans with uninventive caption

*Unless we're talking Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie, both of which tackle magic and families in a frank and unflinching, even courageous manor.

**Especially if that short story is The Lottery. Good news though: stoning villagers to death is generally pooh-poohed, if not outright frowned upon today.

***Which means all other trees, oak, pine, etc., are technically shrubs in Texas. 

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