There is an expression: You are here. This is now. Useful when you’re telling stories to contemplate this from time to time. It is easy to look back, to dip into a time removed. But right at this moment I’m sitting in LA. It is early morning. Outside it is dark and rain has fallen and continues to fall, soaking our cushions on the garden sofa we found unchained, unmanacled like an escaped convict, in the road by Lake Hollywood.
There is a ring of mushrooms that has sprung up, seemingly overnight, outside our window. It is a dark morning without the fog and cold breath of an English winter, but still, it’s recognisably the cold months here. The darkness feels slippery. There are long, wet days that close around 4pm. It is dank and faintly claustrophobic to be inside so much. The windows don’t blow and rattle like they do when there are gales in England. The windows here are doors and they stand firm. Still, listening to the rain at night is comforting, slightly numbing.
And then I went out. To the farmers’ market, where I found pecans. I took some photos – actually I pointed my camera, snapped and moved on. I kept coming back though. Once to ask how to crack the shell (put two in your hand and squeeze), the second time to ask where the nuts came from (Fresno), and then he saw me coming again and he wasn’t sure how to react. Yes, they’re peaking now – the next few weeks are their time.
When I got home I couldn’t believe how truly beautiful they were. Stark, quiet. I loved the way they rattled in their netting and the surprisingly friable nature of the shell. Simple pressure splits the skin. These are fresh, ‘wet’ pecans and they have a sweetness to them missing in walnuts. My first crunch – creamy and dry, faintly tannic – and I thought of maple syrup.
Edmund de Waal talks in his book The Hare with Amber Eyes about the ‘default vagueness’ of melancholy and the ‘smothering lack of focus’ it can engender. We have our stories. Sometimes we forget to go out and make new ones. I have been missing England and the toing and froing of recent months has only added to this sense of dislocation and nostalgia. I have been keening. Now it’s time to be here. Because when I am no longer in this place, I will miss it.
So to pecans. I don’t want to mask their flavour and unique texture. I want to keep them simple and fairly whole. These toasted pecans go well with all manner of things. Here a pear and though Ruth Watson decries the Conference as having ‘as much taste as a policeman in a string vest,’ I rather like the blandness and graininess. A nice ripe juicy pear anyway is a good thing. Take what you can get. Of course, sometimes it must be ice cream and nothing else. A ball of vanilla, a warm clutch of toasted pecans, a thin moat of maple syrup and I’m anyone’s.
Sweet and salty pecans and a ripe pear
David Lebovitz, The Sweet Life in Paris
Deborah Madison, Seasonal Fruit Desserts
1 cup (170g) shelled pecans
1 tbs (15g) butter
1 tbs dark brown sugar
A good pinch of flaky sea salt (fleur de sel) or smoked sea salt
A good pinch of freshly ground black pepper
A finely chopped sprig of rosemary (optional)
Maple syrup (optional)
2 ripe pears
Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and roast in a 300F (180C) oven for about 5 minutes to ‘tickle out’ their flavour. Try to avoid colouring them too much. Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat, add the rosemary (if using) and then the warmed pecans. Sprinkle the brown sugar over them, and stir until the sugar has melted. Remove from the heat, then sprinkle with the salt and a fresh grind of pepper. Let cool to harden. Tap the pecans gently with a rolling pin to break them up or leave them whole.
Peel, quarter and core the pears. Slice them and serve with the pecans and a drizzle of maple syrup if you have some. And if you have some ice cream, go for it.
Things that go well with pecans: vanilla ice cream, maple syrup, bananas, cream, caramel, avocados, blue cheese, apples, pears, dates and beets.