Sometime in the fall, a large wooden bowl would always appear on the marble coffee table, filled with round and wrinkly walnuts, tear-shaped almonds with pinholes in their light shells, Brazil nuts that looked like bear claws and the most exotic-looking of all, the ones with the black tiger stripes—pecans.
They were always given to us by somebody who had pecan trees around Denton, my hometown. It may have been Mr. Masch, the farmer who brought brown eggs to my dad’s office. Maybe it was the woman who sold bags of homemade peanut brittle from the Baptist church. I remember they were special because they were grown nearby.
I never ate them. They sat in the bowl with the silver nutcracker, and every now and then, Daddy would crack open a few and eat them, and he would make such a mess, sharp bits of shells everywhere. It all seemed like too much trouble.
Later in the fall, my dad would shell all of the pecans, and mom would put them in Karo-laden pies with crusts made with Crisco. I remember not liking pecan pie on principle before I tried it. If everyone else (my brother) liked something, then I wasn’t going to. Persnickety, that was what they called me.
But pecans, that’s another story.
A light toast, I’ve learned, brings out their sweetness along with a slight caramel note. Done just right, in a cast-iron skillet over low heat, they’ll brown to the point of slight crispness. Then on the inside, they’ll still be soft, rich with sweet oil.
A pecan farmer who lives not far from Denton sells his pecans out of the back of his truck in the parking lot of the Catfish King restaurant on University Drive, about a mile off of the freeway. I don’t know his name, but I know his pecans, sold in 1-pound bags, already shelled. I always took a few pounds back to France with me, even though it meant leaving behind something else.
Every time I drive past the Catfish King, I wonder if he’s going to come this year, and how I’ll know if he does. I guess I’ll just keep driving by, with a couple of twenties stuffed in the console underneath my phone charger and napkins, hoping that he’ll show.
Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef and author of COWGIRL CHEF:
Texas Cooking with a French Accent (Running Press). Read her blog
(www.cowgirlchef.com), follow her on Twitter (@cowgirlchef) and Instagram