In the Garden:
Before the squirrels beat your to it, gather plenty of pecans, our region's favorite nut.
Pecans are my favorite nut, and I admit to being a pecan snob. Because this year's crop is so bountiful, it's a great time to fall in love with these wonderful nuts. Besides great flavor, recent medical research has revealed that the "good fats" in pecans can lower cholesterol, and that the type of Vitamin E present in pecans enhances intestinal health.
Gathering and Curing Pecans
If you have a pecan tree in your yard, the easiest way to harvest the nuts is to spread out sheets beneath the branches, and then shake the branches with a long pole. Using this method you get dry nuts, but you also can wait until the pecans fall naturally and gather them up.
Place your harvested pecans in large cardboard boxes or mesh bags, and keep them in a warm, dry place for about a month. On warm days, you can spread them in the sun to dry. The objective is to lower the moisture content to about 5 percent (freshly fallen nuts have a moisture content around 25 percent). You will know your pecans are adequately cured when they lose their rubbery texture, and taste crisp and sweet when you sample them.
Pecans have a high oil content, so they need cool storage conditions to keep them from becoming rancid. After curing, store unshelled pecans in a cool place such as an unheated garage. Whenever you're in the mood, bring in a batch to crack and shell.
Store shelled pecans in airtight containers in your refrigerator or freezer. A freezer is best for pecans you won't use within a few months. Frozen pecans will keep for up to two years. This is good news since many trees are "alternate bearers," meaning that after producing a huge crop this year, they may not produce at all next year.
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