File this one under “Love What I Do” or, in this case, maybe I should say under “I’m Nuts About What I Do!” But, not just any nut. Today I’m talking about the South Carolina Pecan.
In early October, just before the local South Carolina Pecan harvest, I took a trip across state lines to learn more about SC grown pecans in the historic town of Ninety Six, SC.
Located just outside of Greenwood, SC, Ninety Six is an easy trip from Charlotte. Pecan farmer John Murray of 96 Pecan Company, walked me across the farm and through the entire process of growing and selling pecans from harvest to table.
Once you finish reading this post, you’d be nuts not to make the pilgrimage to this small but mighty family farm to bring home some of this fine locally grown flavor.
The How-To is Harder Than You Think
The operation at Murray Farms, aka 96 Pecan Company is small in comparison to most commercial pecan operations in this country ( most of them are in Texas); but the operation here is large among the list of pecan farms in the Carolinas. Like most local farms and farmers I love, everything at Murray Farms is hands on from harvest to cracking to processing. Pecans are sorted for size, cracked and packaged for sale onsite.
Like all farming, it’s hard work, an expensive process and a noisy operation from beginning to end. But the Murray’s do it right, and with delicious locally grown results.
John Murray is a cheerleader for local pecan growers across the region and he and his team also sort and shell for other growers in the area, sharing his wealth of knowledge as well as the use of his equipment.
In the end, we as customers and consumers can enjoy the delicious results of the annual fall harvest all year long. In addition to the whole, and shelled raw and salted pecans that Murray Farms sells, many of the farm’s pecans are candied or coated for sale in the 96 Pecan Company farm store located right next to the pecan processing area. Every pecan you buy in the farm store was grown right on the farm – can’t get more local than that!
Be it Pecan or Pee-cans the photos opps on a farm are always so much fun
When you’re a Food and Travel writer, photo opps are everywhere from a 200+ year old pecan grove to the farm’s signature antique red tractor! The history here surrounds you and, of course, the bonus is that there are pecans sweet and savory to sample and buy to take home. If you can corner Farmer John Murray and get him talking, the stories he shares of the local lore are the icing on the cake to a fun food-centric travel day well spent.
Pecan Tastings – Try before You Buy
Plus, when you visit the Certified South Carolina farm & Farm Store at 96 Pecan Company aka Murray Farms, the complimentary Pecan Tasting and farmers and shop owners, Charlotte and John Murray’s “Try Before You Buy policy is a sweet way to spend the afternoon! The store is full of pecans and antiques ( which are also for sale, if you are in a shopping kind of mood)
Which Pecan is your favorite?
It’s honestly hard to say.
That Pecan Caramel Cow Patty I’m holding in the photo above is a winner, for sure. I bought several to bring back home for Tom and me to enjoy.
I also left with large bags of 96 Pecan Co.’s Raw Pecans and salted pecans to use for holiday baking and cooking. The sweet varieties here are more than just sugar-coated. The flavors are well planned and enhance the taste of these local nuts, they don’t just cover them up. If pressed to say, my faves wound up being the dark chocolate coated pecans, the Bourbon Pecans ( seen above in the lower right hand corner of the photo above), and what John and Charlotte call their Sweet Heat Pecans.
Go See for Yourself
With just the two of them running the farm and the farm store, John and Carolyn Murray, don’t yet offer online ordering and shipping. You can see all they offer on their website here. But when it comes to making a purchase, you have to do it the old fashioned way and go see, taste and shop in person.
Make it a day with friends or your family, stop in Greenwood or nearby Abbeville, SC for lunch on your way down, or plan to make an overnight out of the trip. In case you need a suggestion, this three day weekend post includes some of my favorite stops along the way.
Pro Tip here – Remember, you will be sampling at the farm store. You will be too full of pecans to plan to stop for a meal on your way home.
The address is 243 West main Street in Ninety Six, SC. If you have a question or want to inquire about the shop’s hours give them a call at 864-993-3242.
Have fun and remember to #TellThemHeidiSentYou
Savory Recipes feature the South Carolina Pecan
With all the pecan pies, pecan brownies and pecan bars that sweeten up the holiday season, I thought it would be fun in this post to share a few of my favorite savory ways to showcase the fall harvest of local South Carolina pecans.
Recently I shared a fun variation of my SC Pecan and Bleu Cheese Ravioli recipe with Tv hosts Mia Atkins and Eugene Robinson on WCNC’s Charlotte Today. In case you missed it – you’ll find the video here.
For the segment, I simply combined the 96 Pecan Company Sweet Heat Pecans and a few of Murray Farms salted pecans with a bit of blue cheese.
With this variation and in the ravioli recipe below, use any kind of Blue Cheese you’d like. Gorgonzola, Stilton and Roquefort all work well, or you can keep it Certified South Carolina local and use a wedge Clemson Blue Cheese.
John would like that as he played football for Clemson when he was in college. In fact, his championship Gator Bowl ring is on display in the farm store….
But I Digress, Back to the Recipe….
Cut squares or circles of defrosted puff pastry dough ( available in the freezer section of the grocery store) and fit the dough into a mini or standard-sized muffin cups tin. Place a spoonful of the blue cheese and pecan mixture in the center of each round of dough and bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 15-18 mins.
These little pecan stuffed puffs make great handheld appetizers or quick and each cheesy sides to soup or a salad. For a first course plate, make the alfredo sauce in the recipe below and sauce the puffs just before serving, garnish with fresh minced cilantro and a couple of 96 Pecan Company salted or raw pecan halves – delish!
Or use the same pecan and bleu cheese filling in this melt-in-your-mouth ravioli.
Bleu Cheese and Spicy Pecan Ravioli with Cream Sauce
For the Pasta
1-2 sheets of plain pasta dough – make your own or purchase from Charlotte’s Own Pasta & Provisions
1 beaten Local egg
For the Filling:
¼ lb. your favorite blue cheese
1 cup 96 Pecan Company pecans, plain or spicy
A splash of heavy cream or UAV yogurt (available at the Matthews Community Farmers Market)
Sea Salt and Heidi’s Hot Pepper Blend
For the Sauce:
4 Tbsp. Butter
2 cups local milk or a blend of local milk and local cream
¼ -1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Here’s the How To:
Mix all the filling ingredients together and set aside.
Prepare you pasta sheets by rolling the pasta out on a lightly floured surface to about 1/2 the original thickness. Cut the sheet of pasta into 2 ½ – 3 inch squares. Use two squares to make each ravioli.
Fill your pasta: place about 2 teaspoons of filling in the center of one square of dough, making sure you leave a ½ inch gap around the edges. Brush the edges with water or egg wash. Top with another square for a ravioli. Crimp the edges with your fingers or a fork to seal
To Make the Sauce:
In a medium sauté pan melt the butter and milk or cream. Stir cook to Then, stirring constantly, add the shredded Parmesan cheese, season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir until thick.
Gently drop the filled pasta into boiling salted water and cook 2-3 minutes or until the pasta is al dente, drain, but do not rinse with cold water. When the ravioli’s are ready using a slotted spoon, add the pasta directly to cream sauce and toss, gently, on low heat until sauce is warm again.
Garden Sage and Toasted Pecan Pesto
Pesto makes for a wonderful condiment all year long. When fresh garden basil is gone, use your favorite pesto recipe substituting in fresh sage leaves and in place of the pine nuts use toasted SC Pecans.
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup 96 Pecan Company pecans
1/2 packed cup fresh sage
1/2 cup packed fresh parsley
Combine the sage, parsley and cheese in a food processor and process until ground. Add the pecans and pulse several times to combine. With the machine running, drizzle the olive oil through the feed tube until the mix is well blended.
Spread on a sandwich or for a great side, toss the warm roasted or boiled potatoes in the pesto. serve Drizzled with a bit of your favorite balsamic vinegar.
For more variations on the classic pesto recipe and for ideas on how to use your sage and pecan pesto – check out this Cooking from your Kitchen Garden post.
Pecan Sate Chicken Wings or kabobs
Here’s another tasty appetizer for the holidays or any time of the year. Make a pecan butter just like you would make homemade peanut butter and then use it to make an Asian style sate sauce for dipping grilled or broiled chicken wings or kabobs.
8 local chicken wings, cut into drumettes and flaps, tips discarded or cut organic boneless chicken breast or thighs into strips or cubes, OR just use whole bone in chicken pieces, skin removed.
For the marinade:
1 clove organic of local garlic
1 cup organic chicken or beef broth
¼ cup lime juice
1 Tbsp. fish sauce ( Nam Pla)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
For the pecan dipping sauce:
3 cups chopped pecans
Approx ¼ cup – 1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp, tamarind sauce
Zest of 1 orange
1 Tbsp. red chili flakes
¼ cup fish sauce (Nam Pla)
½ cup mushroom Flavored soy sauce ( or tamari sauce *Note the tamari makes this recipe gluten free)
1 can organic Asian coconut milk
¼ cup minced cilantro or 2 Tbsp. dried cilantro leaves
lemon or lime juice to taste
½ cup organic chicken or beef broth
Your favorite hot sauce
Here’s the How To
Season wings with salt and pepper and toss with all the marinade ingredients. Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours of overnight.
Prepare the pecan sauce by placing the nuts in a food processor fitted with the steel knife blade and grinding them until you have nut butter. With the machine running add the olive oil to the paste until you have a spreadable consistency. ( or you can use about 1 ½ cups of your favorite ready made almond butter)
Place the fresh ground “pecan butter” in a saucepan and add tamarind sauce, orange zest, chili flakes, fish sauce, soy or tamari sauce, and cilantro. Add enough coconut milk and broth to give the sauce the right consistency for a dipping sauce. Cook until thick and smooth. Add lemon or lime juice to taste.
Remove the wings from the marinade and place on a Silpat, parchment paper or foil lined baking sheet.
Top each wing with a generous coating of the almond dipping sauce.
Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes or until the nut sauce glaze has browned slightly.
Heat it up by adding a dash or two of hot sauce to the chicken and bake 2 minutes more. Serve hot or at room temp.
Finally, You can’t beat the rich creamy taste of local pecans and fresh crab from the Carolina coast.
Hot Pecan Crab Dip
Here’s another super simply one that hardly needs a recipe but I have one for you all the same. You’ll find it almost at the end of my Summer Seafood post here.
Take this recipe for Crab did with a roasted artichoke and simply add finely chopped salted or raw or 96 Pecan Company Bourbon pecans to the crab mix. Bake as directed and serve on the leaves of the artichoke or on your favorite buttery crackers or toasts.