Monday, January 28, 2013

Recipe for Healthy Berry-Pecan Muffins

“Well, dog-gone,” my father replied when I told him that hickories are in the same family of trees as pecans.  You see, we hail from a place where hickories are in abundance, while it is also the furthest northeastern boundary of where pecans grow in the United States, a deep-country-place in Southern Ohio that back in our early days there was so insulated from the rest of the world that it almost had a life of its own.  Neither my father nor I can remember whether or not we have actually seen a tree giving forth pecans rather than hickory nuts in our area.  It was also news to us that American Indians were responsible for naming both of the trees.  The word "hickory" is said to have come from the Algonquian Indian word "pawcohiccora," while the Algonquian term “pacane,” or “paccan,” or “pakan,” meaning “a nut so hard it has to be cracked with a stone,” evolved into “pecan.” 
                If we were sons and daughters of Nashville, Memphis, Dallas, New Orleans, and other warmhearted places along the “Pecan Belt,” we would be familiar with the resumé of pecans—we would know, for instance, that the trees can grow to be one hundred feet tall and live to be one thousand years old—quite a bit taller and much older than hickories.  Now that’s a lot of nuts!  In addition, after peanuts, which aren’t a tree-nut at all, pecans are the most popular nuts in North America.  In fact, the United States produces over eighty percent of the world’s crop of this indigenous commodity.  This is true even though along with John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, George Clooney, electricity, automobiles, airplanes, telephones and countless other good things from North America, with the help of humankind, pecan trees eventually set root in other places around the globe:  Australia, Brazil, China, Israel, Mexico, Peru, and South Africa among them. 

                Along with many other firsts credited to him, Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the nation, is recognized as the person who introduced the pecan to areas east of the Mississippi Valley, its native ground.  Having discovered them during a trip to the area, he carried some nuts and seedlings back to his home in Virginia.  He also introduced them to his friend, fellow Virginian, and first president of their homeland, George Washington.  Thereafter, both of the statesmem grew the trees on their plantations, an enterprise that spread to the southern states of the country.  Subsequent to the Civil War, Union soldiers transported the seedlings and nuts to the north, which increased the regard for the buttery-flavored nut even further.  It was a black-slave-gardener named “Antoine,” at Louisiana’s Oak Alley plantation, however, who was responsible for developing the first cultivar of the tree.  In 1876, it was dubbed, “Centennial,” in commemoration of the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the United States.  Since then, in deference to the people who fostered them originally, many of the current, five-hundred cultivars of the plant have been named for American Indian tribes including “Cheyenne,” “Kiowa,” “Sioux,” “Choctaw,” and “Creek.” 
                No overview of pecans would be complete without including pralines, the nutty confection originated in France using almonds rather than pecans.  Stories abound regarding its appearance in the French cuisine.  One account is that Clement Lassagne, chef of Marshal du Plesses-Praslin (1598-1675) concocted it after watching children in his kitchen nibbling on almonds and caramel.  Or, it might have happened when one of his young and clumsy apprentices knocked over a container of almonds into a vat of cooking caramel.  The most popular version involves Marshal du Plessis-Praslin himself.  A notorious ladies man, he is purported to have asked Lassagne to develop an alluring treat for his paramours, which he presented to them in decorative little packets.  For a time, the treat was referred to as “praslin,” after the lascivious gentleman, but evolved into praline. 

              Brought to Louisiana by French settlers, chefs in New Orleans eventually substituted pecans for almonds and added cream to the French praline recipe.  The basic “Big Easy” recipe for this Creole treat comprises pecans, brown sugar, white sugar, cream, and butter added to either rum, vanilla, chocolate, coconut, or peanut butter.  Pronounced “prah-leen” in Louisiana, it is “pray-leen” to the rest of us, but regardless of the way one pronounces it, it is a Southern delicacy.  Having always been sold on the streets of New Orleans, passers-by are lured to the Vieux Carré-stalls of praline vendors by the mouth-watering aroma, as well as the Creole call, “Belles Pralines!”  “Belles Pralines!

                Pecans are rich in protein, vitamins and minerals.  Clinical research has found that eating about a handful of plain pecans each day may help lower cholesterol as effectively as designated medications.  They also promote neurological health, as well as delay age-related muscle-nerve degeneration.  If you have a hankering for baked-goods, but want to avoid the unhealthy ingredients in traditional recipes, the following is a tasty and healthy substitute, one that accepts nuts, berries and fruit nicely.  It is also a better choice for people sensitive to gluten, as well as for sufferers of irritable bowel disorder, Crohns and Colitis.  The batter of the recipe can be used for basic bread, pancakes, crepes and cupcakes (add maple syrup to sweeten the batter), crackers, etc.:   

Healthy Berry-Pecan Muffins
(The recipe normally substitutes almond flour for white or wheat flour.  I have found that by adding garbanzo/fava bean flour to the almond flour, a smoother and finer batter is the result.  It also calms the rather strong flavor of almond flour.  Cranberries are featured in this recipe, but any berry, or fruit, will do.)

Heat the oven to 325° (160°C).  Line a muffin tin with large baking cups


1 Tbsp. (15 ml) ground cinnamon

2 Tbsp. (25 ml) maple syrup

1 Tbsp. (15 ml) unsalted butter

(Combine ingredients in a small bowl and mix well)

Muffin Batter

2 ½ cups (625 ml) almond & garbanzo/fava flour mixture

1 cup (250 ml) chopped pecans

¼ tsp (1 ml) salt

½ tsp (2 ml) baking soda

1 tsp (5ml) ground cinnamon

(Combine ingredients in a separate bowl)

2 eggs

½ cup (125 ml) Yogurt

½ cup (125 ml) maple syrup

1 ½ cups (375 ml) cranberries (or berries or fruit of choice)

(Combine the wet ingredients in another bowl and pour into the first bowl of the dry ingredients.  Mix well.  Add enough water to make the batter about the consistency of toothpaste.  Evenly fill each baking cup with the batter and drizzle the topping over each one.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.)*
*With some alterations of my own, this recipe is taken from one of my cooking Bibles:  Grain-free GOURMET by JODI BAGER and JENNY LASS

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