Earlier this week I received a box containing assorted pecans, shortbread cookies and a number of other items from a company called Bandera Foods. All of it was delicious, but the Smokin' Pecans were near transcendent. They were light, had a crisp, airy texture and were laced with a subtle smoky flavor that took them over the top. I tossed the bag over the cube partition to our web editor, who muttered something in British I couldn't understand. I knew it was positive, though, because of his tone, and also because he threw me back an empty bag a few seconds later.
The second bag, labeled Killer Pecans, was just as good. Seasoned nuts are often caked with sugar but these were subtly sweet and lightly salty with a just a whisper of chili heat. This bag stayed on my part of the partition and was emptied, too.
I was ready to write about the experience, but I thought I should buy one more bag, in part because I wanted to check for consistency but mostly because I wanted to eat more pecans. Eatzi's was listed on the company's website as a retailer, so fast-forward though an agonizing full-store search with the most terrible opera music as a soundtrack, and I'm back at home with another bag.
And they're a bust.
Maybe bust is a little dramatic. My latest bag was good and it disappeared not long after I took a picture of them, but they lacked the exceptional qualities that the first round did. These were dense, had more moisture, and lacked that crisp texture that really grabbed me when this pecan binge started. Good but nothing special, and also $8 for a four-ounce bag.
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I called Katie Brown, who started Bandera Foods with her husband, George, and she told me a few things might account for the inconsistent texture, specifically about the size of the nuts used in that particular batch and how much time had elapsed since they were cooked.
"The smaller ones get crisper when they're fried," she told me, while larger nuts retain more of a dense and meaty texture. They also deteriorate with time, so the fresher they are the better.
That's why the Browns make about two weeks' worth of pecans at a time. They want everything they sell to be as fresh as possible. Once they sell the nuts to a retailer, though, who knows what they'll be subjected too.
So the moral is: Shop online if you want the most exceptional pecans possible. You'll have to pay shipping, but the prices are sufficiently lower. And since you shouldn't sit around eating entire bags of pecans very often, you might as well do it right.