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Friday, July 8, 2011

PECAN: THE ALL - AMERICAN NUT: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF PECANS: BUTTERNUT SQUASH WITH PECANS RECIPE

PECANS, CARYA ILLINOINENSIS
As the Latinized form of the name Illinois suggests, pecans were first ‘discovered’ by European traders in that state, who named them Illinois nuts. They must have been planted there by the Native Americans who were eating them at least 8,000 years ago in the area of what is now Texas, according to archaeological evidence. They originated in the Mississippi river basin   Pecan nuts are a valuable source of protein and contain vitamins A, E and B-complex ones along with the minerals copper, zinc, potassium, iron, calcium, manganese and phosphorous. They have antioxidant properties, and contain good fats such as oleic acid. They are members of the hickory genus and members of the walnut family, Juglanaceae. In fact they can be substituted for walnuts in most recipes and vice versa.
  The name ‘pecan’ came from the Algonquin word pecane which describes the qualities of the nut and shell; ‘nut so hard that it requires a stone to crack’. The pecan trees are slow-growing that may begin to produce seeds (pecan nuts) after 6 years, but it may take longer. The nuts, which are technically seeds, take 6 – 9 months to ripen on the tree, and are obvious when the leaves fall in autumn. Then you will get a good crop of nuts one year followed by a much smaller harvest the following year. The trees attract butterflies and the nuts are avidly taken by gray squirrels, opossums, raccoons and other animals if people don’t get to them first. The pecan tree is the state tree of Texas.
   Thomas Jefferson planted pecans at Monticello and gave some to George Washington. The trees planted by these two presidents are now the oldest ones in Mount Vernon. The trees can grow up to 180 feet high and have spreading crowns of up to 120 feet, so providing as much shade as the bohar or banyan tree in the Indian subcontinent. The trees flower in April through to May with male catkins and female flowers on the same tree.
Pecans are now grown in Spain, Egypt, Israel, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, France, Australia and South Africa. Varieties of the pecan tree have all been named after Native American tribes, as after all the nuts were a staple for them in the past.
  Native Americans used a decoction of the bark of the pecan tree as a remedy for TB, and an infusion of the leaves and bark was used for dysentery and diarrhoea and externally for skin problems. The pulped leaves were put onto fungal infections such as ringworm to get rid of them. Charcoal from the tree was used to smoke meats. Milk can be made from the seeds and used to thicken soup, or to flavour corn cakes etc. Oil is extracted from the seeds and can be used on salads or in cooking in the same way as walnut or sesame oil.
  Research on lab animals has shown that pecans and the tree have properties which may reduce the risks or some neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and may also reduce the risks of heart disease and cancer, but more extensive research is needed into the properties of the tree and the nuts.
  The wood from the pecan can be made into furniture, as it has much the same qualities as hickory wood and it can also be used for paneling and veneer. Perhaps the most famous use for pecans is pecan pie, which is made in many homes at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Pecan pie is as American as apple pie, but not as well-known in the rest of the world. However you can do a lot of things with pecans, such as adding them to biscuits, bread and cakes. Interestingly the first written Pecan Pie recipe dates back only to 1925, so perhaps it is a relative newcomer to US cuisine.
  The recipe below cam be made with blue cheese, such as a Blue Gloucester, Cheshire, or Roquefort and also could be made with Feta. I use Blue Stilton because I enjoy the taste of a really good one.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH WITH PECANS
Ingredients
2 kg butternut squash, halved, seeds removed,
   and cut into 1 inch cubes
3 tbsps olive oil
6 sprigs thyme (½ tsps dried) or ajwain
6 sprigs oregano (½ tsps dried)
4 oz pecans, crushed or chopped
4 oz Blue Stilton, crumbled
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste



Method
Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 7 / 220° C / 425°F.
Put the squash in one layer on a greased oven proof tray and sprinkle the leaves from the herb sprigs over it, season and drizzle with the olive oil.
Put in the oven and bake for 30-45 minutes until the squash is tender.
Remove from the oven and transfer to a serving bowl, add the pecans and cheese and stir well to mix.
Serve with roast chicken or as a vegetarian dish with fresh crusty bread.
This has Taste and is a Treat.

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