Southern Voices on Pecans: Robby Melvin, Southern Living Test Kitchen Director

Southern Voices on Pecans: Robby Melvin, Southern Living Test Kitchen Director

Pecans are an iconic part of Southern cooking, so much so that they have become woven in our memory of family, place, and many a good meal. As essential to the Southern table as they were generations ago, pecans are a prized nut, so we asked some of the South’s best cooks to share their stories about this crop we are so fortunate to tend. Here is what they had to say.

By Stephanie Burt

“I’ve always said I’m by no means a pastry chef,” says Robby Melvin, Southern Living Test Kitchen Director and Recipe Developer for Time Inc. Food Studios in Birmingham, Ala. While I’m pretty sure that Robby could whip up a pecan pie better than most of us would even attempt, I’ll take his word for it. And when he says it’s savory foods where he really shines, well, there’s no denying that.

If he likes the savory side of things, he can thank his grandparents. Every weekend he spent time with them, staying Saturday night through post-Sunday lunch for Alabama boyhood days of vegetable gardens, cooking, exploring the fields and woods, and a little television watching with his grandfather. “He had this little tray situation beside his big easy chair,” he recalls, “and that tray was always filled (it seemed) with about 20 or so pecans in the shell, along with a little hand cracker. I’d sit at his knee watching TV, and I can still hear the sound of him cracking nuts, cleaning out the shell, and then every so often passing one down to me over my shoulder.”

His grandmother kept pecans in the freezer for baking, and although Robby never really liked the texture of pecan pie until he was a teenager, he loved trying to sneak frozen pecans from her stash. The frozen pecan texture was a contrast to the fresh cracked ones from his grandfather, but just a good, just as interesting, and just as satisfying. Pecans were his treat of choice.

These days, he carries on that savory snack tradition in his own household, adding a chef twist or two to make snacking nuts that are delicious on their own or useful as toppings for salads or casseroles. When pulverized in a blender or food processor, they even make an easy breading for fish or chicken. “I almost always have these around the house,” he says.
With these around, who needs pie?

Robby’s Snacking Pecans
2 cups pecans
2-3 tbsp. Butter
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper (although you can substitute curry powder, chili powder, or cumin if you don’t prefer the heat)

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Melt butter in medium saucepan over low heat until just foaming, then sprinkle in cayenne and stir to “bloom” for 10-15 seconds.
  3. Toss in pecans and coat with butter and spice mixture, then spread on a baking sheet in a single layer.
  4. Bake for 8-10 minutes until just toasted, then remove to a bowl while still warm and sprinkle salt over pecans while tossing.
  5. Serve immediately or keep in an airtight container.

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