Pronunciation: [pih-KAHN; pih-KAN; PEE-kan]

This native American nut, a member of the hickory family, has a fat content of over 70 percent. Pecan trees prefer temperate climates and are widely grown in Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas, and as far north as Virginia. The nut's smooth, tan shell averages about 1 inch in length and, though hard, is relatively thin. The buttery-rich kernel is golden-brown on the outside and beige inside. Chopped or halved shelled pecans are available year-round in cellophane packages, cans and jars. Though unshelled pecans are also available throughout the year, their peak season is during the autumn months. Choose unshelled pecans by their clean, unblemished, uncracked shells. When shaken, the kernel should not rattle. Store tightly wrapped in a cool, dry place for up to six months. Refrigerate shelled pecans in an airtight container for up to three months, or freeze up to six months. Care must be taken when storing pecans because their high fat content invites rancidity. Pecans are favorites for eating out of hand, as well as for using in a variety of sweet and savory dishes. Probably the most well-known pecan dessert is the deliciously rich Southern pecan pie, usually dolloped generously with whipped cream.

From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

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