For many Southerners, it’s not Christmas without pecans. Generations of home cooks have used them in treasured holiday dishes, making the pecan a nostalgic nut that is as arguably as important as the Christmas ham.
Whether pecans are used in a sweet dessert or a savory side dish, they are as versatile as they are sentimental.
For Dot Stone of Pine Apple, pecans are a during the holidays.
“Buying pecans just brings up those special feelings you get at holidays,” she said. “We always use them in our Christmas dishes.”
Dot, whose mother was a master cook and graduate of the Mississippi State College for Women’s home economics program, grew up in the kitchen. She followed in her mother’s footsteps, earning a degree in home economics from Auburn University in 1961.
After working for two years as a home economist for Alabama Power, where she demonstrated how to use electrical appliances in schools and homes, Dot became a stay-at-home mother to her two sons, Gordon and Chris.
“I stayed home for 21 years, and we ate together at the table every day,” Dot said. “Until recently, we had Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner at our home for family and friends. We always filled up our banquet table, which seats 18 people.”
At these meals, Dot served pecan pie from the 1958 Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn University) cookbook; sweet potato casserole made from a recipe she obtained in 1959; and her mother’s famous Christmas applesauce cake. More recipes, like her daughter-in-law’s Presbyterian muffins and a friend’s popular pecan cake, have been added to her Christmas recipe repertoire over the years.
Gathering around the table and enjoying timeless recipes is something Dot believes keeps families strong.
“This day and time, people can get in the habit of being on the go instead of sitting down together,” she said. “I think as long as a family eats meals together, it just strengthens the family unity. It’s just important to have the family together to keep your family strong.”