THE GROVE

Southern Nougat | for the love of the south

As we drove down the long, dusty road, I noticed a few fields of Alabama cotton that had yet to be cleared. Autumn was evident in the harvested crops, the cool, crisp air, and the golden and amber hued leaves that tumbled and weaved across our path like children playing without a care in the world. We slowly crept to a halt as we got to the end of the road and inched over a set of railroad tracks. As we passed over the tracks, it was as if we went back in time. A time when Southern traditions were worn like a strand of cherished pearls: donned daily around the neck and treasured close to the heart.

Mighty magnolias and precious pecan trees covered the grounds of the family estate. Branches bowed as if they were graciously welcoming our arrival. Pecan trees were freckled with bright green jackets, which harbored tiger-striped pecans, just waiting to drop to the ground. I gathered as many pecans that had already fallen before the squirrels could get their greedy paws on these scrumptious Southern treats.

Southern Nougat | for the love of the south

As I gathered pecans, I heard a loud yelp in the distance. “What was that?” My question was countered with laughter. “Oh, that’s just Jerry Lee Lewis. He loves to sing!” I looked around the corner and saw two larger than large German Shepherds. Recalling Jerry Lee Lewis’s nickname was “The Killer”, I retreated back to my basket, gathered my spoils and graciously allowed the dogs to feast on the remaining pickings.

With my basket filled to the brim with pecans, I made my way into the inviting, old house. The worn, wooden floors whispered and creaked as if they could tell tales of the children that grew up in these corridors. Those children have grown and now have their own children scurrying about the house, writing new chapters into the history and halls of the estate.

Pecan Picking | for the love of the south

As I walked into the main parlor, I noticed framed newspaper clippings along with black and white photos of beautiful hunting dogs. The owner of the house pointed to one photo in particular and said, “He is the one that started it all.” According to the legend, this was the first of many show dogs that raised enough money to pay for the estate. (It is also referred to as the house the dogs built!) I made my way through the French doors and down the hallway, and into the main living room where I found my favorite spot in the house.

In front of an enormous fireplace stood two matching chairs angled toward each other with a tall, circular table nestled in between. On top of the wooden table rested a crystal bottle filled with blushing brandy and two digestif glasses carefully placed in front. That one sitting area told an unspoken story of two people taking time at the end of the evening, relaxing in front of the crackling fire, enjoying something to drink that warmed their bodies and their spirits. This simple setting taught me something about the past. The past does not have to only live in photos on the wall or in worn floorboards, but it can also be kept alive in small, tangible details daily.

I watched the magnolias fade into the distance as we passed over the tracks once again. I sat there with my basket filled with pecans and thought about traditions and the means to restore and cherish them in our everyday lives. Here is to restoring old traditions and creating new ones that will live on in our spirits and homes for generations and generations to come.

Pecan Picking | for the love of the south

Recipe: Pecan + Fig Southern Nougat

Note: This classic European dessert is traditionally made with pistachios or almonds, but I combined local Tennessee honey, Alabama pecans and Louisiana figs for a lovely Southern twist!

90g of Sourwood Honey (or any other local honey)

90g of light corn syrup

300g of granulated sugar

2 tablespoons of water

2 egg whites, room temperature

Pinch of kosher salt

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

100g of toasted pecan halves, roughly chopped

100g of dried figs, quartered

Cornstarch and powdered sugar, for dusting

 

Line an 8 ½ x 4 ½” pan with greased parchment paper.

 

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine honey, corn syrup, sugar and water until the mixture reaches 284oF (140oC), soft crack stage.

 

Meanwhile, whisk egg whites and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until soft peaks form.

 

Add the golden syrup to the egg white while slowly whisking. Increase the speed and whisk for 6-8 minutes. Whisk in the vanilla extract for 30 seconds. Fold in pecans and figs.

 

Quickly pour the nougat into the prepared pan and spread evenly with a wet offset spatula until smooth. Allow the nougat to sit for 4-6 hours.

 

Dust a cutting board with equal amounts of cornstarch and powdered sugar. Turn the nougat onto the cutting board. Remove the parchment and dust with more cornstarch and powdered sugar. Cut into desired pieces and tightly wrap in wax paper for up to 2 weeks. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE PECAN TREE

Pecan Milk | for the love of the south

Outlined against the illuminating midwinter sky, delicate black branches of the pecan tree gently wave like arthritic hands toward heaven in prayer. Emerald fruit the size of a newborn’s fist are scattered under the bowing boughs of the ancient pecan tree. Mossy jackets peel away like damp pieces of cardboard, revealing a black and brown tiger striped shell.

My grandfather is one of the most patient men I have ever met, and, therefore, the caretaker of the pecan trees. He is tender at heart, wrinkled around the eyes and deeply rooted. After gathering the pecans, he perches himself at the vast wooden kitchen table, his mighty, weathered hand grasps the pewter cracker. The weight of the metal breaks the shell, exposing the tender, sweet, earthy meat of the pecan. Meticulously separating the two halves from the center of the nut, he carefully places the pecans in labeled bags, with the exception of the occasional stragglers that just have to be tasted. It’s a sweet reward for tending to his beloved pecan trees.

Pecan Milk | for the love of the south

Some years, the tree would be barren, either from drought or an autumn storm, which would strip the tree of all its green fruit. But, then, it’s prolific once again, as in life. Even though this past year the steadfast tree hasn’t produced well, he is still patient and tends to it, like a member of the family, waiting and caring for the tree in gentle spirits.

Pecan Milk Ingredients | for the love of the south

Recipe: Homemade Louisiana Pecan Milk

Makes 4 servings

Note: Making this recipes is like bottling pecan essence. If you can’t get your hands on Louisiana pecans, use whatever you can find. Just know there will be a difference in flavor when using grocery store pecans rather than fresh, local ones.

You can reuse the leftover strained pecan meal if you don’t like the idea of tossing it. I add some of the damp meal to cornbread batter, pancake batter or biscuit dough. It’s also yummy stirred into yogurt or oatmeal. You can also add it to a vanilla ice cream base to make a quick pecan ice cream!

1 cup of Louisiana pecan halves

2 tablespoons of local honey

Pinch of kosher salt

Place pecans in a bowl and cover with water by 2-inches. Let stand at least 12 hours (the longer the pecans soak, the creamier and smoother the milk with be.)

Drain pecans and discard the soaking liquid. Place pecans, honey and salt in a blender. Add 4 cups of hot, filtered water to the blender and blend on low speed, increasing to high for at least 2 minutes.

Strain pecan milk through a tea towel or a fine-mesh sieve into a medium-sized bowl, pressing down on the solids. Toss or reuse the pecan meal (see note above.) At this point, adjust the sweetness and saltiness of the milk to taste. You can also add more water if you desire a thinner milk. I usually double strain my pecan milk, but the beauty of this recipe is that you can make the milk to your desired taste and texture! Enjoy!

Honeycomb + Sea Salt | for the love of the south