Outlined against the illuminated sky, the delicate black branches of the pecan tree wave gently, like arthritic hands toward heaven in prayer. Emerald fruit the size of a newborn's fists are scattered under the bowing boughs of the ancient tree. Mossy jackets peel away from the fruit like damp pieces of cardboard to reveal a black and brown tiger striped shell.
Some years, the tree is barren; both droughts and autumn storms can strip it of all its green fruit. But then it's prolific once again. And even though this past year the tree hasn’t produced well, my grandfather -- one of the most patient men I've ever met -- tends to it like a member of the family, waiting and caring for the tree in gentle spirits.
My grandfather is the caretaker of the pecan trees. He is tender at heart, wrinkled around the eyes, and deeply rooted. After gathering the pecans, he perches himself at the vast wooden kitchen table and grasps the pewter nutcracker. The weight of the metal breaks the shell and exposes the tender, sweet, and earthy meat of the pecan. He meticulously separates the two halves from the center of the nut and places the pecans in labeled bags (with the exception of the occasional stragglers that just have to be tasted -- a sweet reward for tending to his beloved pecan trees).
This recipe is my effort to bottle the essence of the Louisiana pecans for which my grandfather lovingly cares. If you can’t get your hands on Louisiana pecans specifically, use whatever you can find. Just know there will be a difference in flavor when using grocery store pecans rather than fresh, local ones.
If you don't like the idea of tossing the leftover strained pecan meal, you can put it to good use. I add some of the damp meal to cornbread batter, pancake batter, or biscuit dough. It’s also good stirred into yogurt or oatmeal or added to a vanilla ice cream base for an easy pecan ice cream.