Rachel Gaffney's Letter from Texas

Rachel Gaffney

The famous foodie who’s flying the tricolour for us in Texas celebrates the official nut of Texas, the pecan.

Over the last few years, I have been battling health issues that have taken me to a heart hospital in Dallas to the world famous Cleveland Clinic and now to an autonomic nervous system and autoimmune specialist. A balanced healthy diet has always been of the utmost importance to me and I always thought I ate really well but recently I am learning that it is not as great as I thought it was.

What has been learned over the last decade is quite astounding and I consider myself fortunate to be here in Dallas now among the specialists and having access to cutting edge knowledge. We are learning how Vitamin D deficiency is being linked to breast cancer, heart disease and inflammation.

We also know that Vitamin E is a vital antioxidant that protects us from free radical damage and thus affects our immune function. I have been told that my consistently low vitamin D is attributed to being Northern European and that no amount of sunshine will help me. It’s in our genes. Which now explains a lot for me. Hence the autoimmune issues.

A research study from Lorna Linda University in California demonstrates that naturally occurring antioxidants in pecans may help contribute to heart health and disease prevention; the results were published in the Jan 2011 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.

With that being said, my own health journey has me paying even more attention to food, its origins and uses, not just from my native homeland of Ireland but my current home of Texas. I have increased the amount of healthy bacteria, grass fed meats and nuts to my diet to name just a few changes. One of the nuts I have added to my diet is the one and only official nut of Texas, the pecan.

Candied Pecans - Rachel Gaffney

In Europe and parts of the United States (mostly the East Coast) the pronunciation of pecan is pee~can, whereas here in the South it is pronounced as p’cawn San Saba is known as the Pecan Capital of the World. Located a mere 2 hours from Austin it sits above the Texas hill country. This is a big ‘ol state so to help you visualise let me give you some drive times. San Saba is 5 hours from San Augustine, 2½ hours from San Antonio and 7 hours from San Elizario. (San is the Spanish word for saint).

In the early 1800’s an Englishman, Edmund Riesen, was on his way to California and happened upon an abundant supply of pecans on the ground. These weren't just any old pecan, these were, in his opinion the best tasting pecans and they fell from the ‘Mother Tree’ which still stands today on the family homestead. The most popular varieties now come from this tree. The Millican Pecan Company in San Saba is run today by Winston Millican, his great great grandson.

Pecan trees need deep loamy soil to thrive and need long warm growing periods with night temperatures that are also warm. From this humble tree, pecan is used to make floorboards and furniture. But it’s the nut that we get so many uses for in our cooking here in Texas. Yes, of course we can buy bulk pecans whole, partially cracked, fully peeled and sliced, pecan meal or pecan flour.

The flour is made after the nut is pressed and the oil saved. A pecan pie made from this flour adds an even more buttery nutty flavour. However, this is a gluten free product so the appropriate measures need to be taken when baking with any gluten free product.

There are so many varieties of pecan such as the Burkett, the Cheyenne, the Oconee, (from the Gulf Coast), the Tejas (found in West Texas) and the Wichita (from Central Texas) to name but a few. Each looks, smells and tastes different to the next. You will find that anything that can possibly be done with a pecan is being done. Jalapeno pecan jelly (preserve not dessert), pecan coffee, pecan pie, chocolate covered pecans and pecan oil which is known to be better for you than some olive oils.

One of the most common uses for pecan shells is to soak them in water and then place them on your smoker when smoking briskets, chops and any other meats really. We use them in our home when using our Green Egg to smoke a pork loin or ribs. Every few hours we add some soaked pecan shells to the smoker.

Pecans are delicious added to your summer salads. If you don’t already use them try these delicious Candied Pecans:

Whisk 1 egg white and 1 tablespoon of water in a bowl. Add 450g pecan halves, stir in 1 teaspoon of salt, 70g of sugar (or to taste). Mix and place on a baking sheet with greaseproof paper. Bake for 45 minutes (tossing occasionally) in a preheated oven at 250º F.


Rachel Gaffney's Real Ireland


: Rachel Gaffneys Real Ireland
Follow me on Twitter: @Rachelgaffney

Email: Rachel@Rachelgaffneys.com

Watch 'The Irish Kitchen' now on HULU




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