It's November. Thanksgiving is tomorrow. The next thing you know, it'll be Hanukkah and Yule and Christmas and Kwanzaa and a veritable cornucopia of winter festivities that will keep you baking and partying until your head spins. Whew! Who needs a glass of heavily spiked eggnog? (Or vegan wine, whatever your poison.)
Now, lets say that, with Thanksgiving looming, you're heading to the in-laws and you really should bring something, but you're so unprepared and haven't a clue what to do because you just don't have the energy to try for the umpteenth year in a row to wow them with your latest culinary masterpiece. And yet, you are loathe to bring something store-bought.
If you've got just about an hour and a half to kill (most of this time being spent reading that novel you've been trying to finish while keeping an ear out for the oven timer), I've got just the thing for you. It's simple, it's delicious, it's absolutely seasonal, and you could do it with your eyes closed (almost). Or, you know, while you're blogging. Like me.
What follows is one of only two die-hard traditions I have for the holidays. It is a recipe that has been handed down through my family for, well, at least three generations. (I'm a little foggy as to whether my dearly departed grandmother started this one, or if it was handed down to her by her own mother. Or maybe it was her mother-in-law . . . hmm . . . family history I'll have to clear up at some point.)
My grandmother made these spiced pecans every year, without fail. That is, until she died when I was sixteen. I went several years after without them, until the day I wised up, realized what I was missing, and called my aunt to get the recipe. Her first response was to chuckle.
"What?" I asked, nonplussed.
"Do you know what your grandmother used to go through to make those pecans?" asked my aunt, in her silly-mortals voice.
"Er, no . . ."
"I asked her for this recipe years ago, and she told me that she would roll each pecan, by hand, first in the wet mix and then the dry mix, one by one."
Dramatic and much impressed pause. "She didn't," says I.
"She did," said my aunt. "She would spend an entire day, sitting at her table, making pecans."
Another dramatic pause.
"Well, I said to hell with that," my aunt continued. "I'll tell you the shortcut. And if your grandmother ever knew how much time she wasted . . . "
"You never told her?" Me, horrified and amused all at once. If there's one trait that truly defines my aunt, it's her audacity. She takes after her mother.
"I never had the heart to," she said, all heart herself.
So, here it is in all its glory, my grandma Lillie's recipe for spiced pecans--revised.
*One quick rule of thumb to remembering this recipe is that everything is in ones.
1 lb. shelled pecan halves
1 egg white
1 Tbsp. cold water
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a large mixing bowl (large enough to easily mix around a pound of pecans), whisk together the egg white and cold water. Add the pecans and stir well until the pecans are thoroughly and evenly coated. Set aside.
Combine the sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a gallon size plastic baggie. Close the bag tightly (make sure to leave ample air inside to create space) and shake vigorously until the sugar/salt/cinnamon is evenly blended. Carefully dump all of the pecans into this bag with the sugar mixture, close tight (again, with plenty of air for mixing space), and shake the contents like crazy until all the nuts are coated and there is no more loose sugar in the bottom of the bag. (This, my dear friends, is what has saved my aunt and I hours and hours of work every holiday season since my beloved, hard-working grandma passed from this life. May she never find out that we're cheating.)
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil (for easier cleanup) and pour the coated pecans onto the sheet, spreading them out as evenly as possible. Bake the pecans in the oven, taking them out to stir every fifteen minutes, for a total cooking time of one hour (not counting the time it takes to stir, so you'll have to restart your timer every time you put them back in the oven). Stirring them every fifteen minutes like this is essential. Otherwise, you end up with, as my aunt puts it, "the worlds largest praline."
Let the pecans cool completely and store in an airtight container until ready to serve. Needs no refrigeration and will make your in-laws very happy. Also, they make great little jarred, tinned, or cello-bagged holiday gifts.
Much love and good eating,