Mrs. Santa's Book Bag
Pecans: A Savor the South Cookbookby Kathleen Purvis (The University of North Carolina Press, 104 pp., $18)
I really appreciate cookbooks that don't jump all over the kitchen or the map. There is definitely something to the adage, "Do one thing, and do it well." This compact little book focuses tightly on the the powerhouse nature of the popular nut and never strays. Part of a series highlighting Southern ingredients, the book is packed with over 50 recipes and a lovely, languid introduction, which is at times personal and funny, at other times, technical and historical. Purvis opens her book with a simple tip: "I keep my pecans in the freezer." Her story unfolds from there.
Pecans were discovered in this country, she tells us, by fur trappers in Illinois who sent them back East, and thus they were briefly called "Illinois nuts." It is noted that while Thomas Jefferson planted pecan trees, he probably didn't know the nut's name, which actually comes from an Algonquin word that means "any nut hard enough to crack with a stone." These first pages are a delightful read and are loaded with facts and observations.
The author is the food editor for the Charlotte Observer, and her recipes are well-written, easy to follow, and broken into nice, neat chapters. The bleu cheese pecan spread is a favorite among the appetizers; the sharpness of the cheese bounces off the buttery nature of the pecan. Roasted broccoli or brussels sprouts are elevated with a brown butter studded with pecans. An easy vinaigrette adds the crunch of chopped pecans and is suggested over spicy arugula. Purvis presents a pecan pesto – that turned out beautifully – and suggests tossing it with farfalle pasta, peas, shrimp, and red bell peppers. Desserts command the bulk of the recipes, with ideas as simple as the World's Greatest Pecan Cookies and pecan pralines. More involved suggestions include pecan meringue bites and chocolate praline cheesecake. Pack this little book in a box with a couple pounds of Texas pecans, and ship it to your favorite cook. You'll be a holiday hero.