Not Just One Nut

We tend to think of pecans as a single nut, but this buttery Southern treat that adorns our holiday tables comes in more than 500 varieties.

By Dominique Lemoine

Published on October 21, 2013

We tend to think of pecans as a single nut—pecans, period. But, in reality, the pecan—from the Algonquin Indian paccan, meaning "nuts that require a stone to crack"—a rugged-looking, buttery Southern nut that fills our tables every holiday season, comes in more than 500 varieties. Georgia is known for its toothsome cultivars, including the most common one, the Stuart (top left). With its large striped brown shell and its plump straw-colored kernel, the Stuart is the quintessential pecan: nutty, sweet, and crunchy. It's a great all-purpose nut for chopping and mixing into dishes from moist pecan cream cakes and buttery wedding cookies to dirty rice. Yellowish-brown in color with a slender and smooth shell, Schley pecans (top right) have a higher oil content than most pecans, which gives them a concentrated nutty flavor. They're terrific for enriching sauces and are also delicious candied or coated in spices. Although smaller than most varieties, the Elliott pecan (bottom left) is a favorite among Georgia growers. Its sumptuous round kernel has a delicate hickory nut flavor that makes it wonderful for baked goods and for eating out of hand. A larger nut is the Desirable (bottom right). Prized for its easy-to-crack shell, big kernel, and robust flavor, it's ideal halved and used to decoratively top spicy cheese wafers.

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