Two more daughters were born and, over time, the three sisters grew to play in the shade of the tree’s broad branches, climbing, jumping, and staining their clothes with its caramel-colored sap. The girls gathered the tree’s savory pecans, cracking them open and eating them as they played.
As time passed, the nogal grew majestic, spreading its branches and reaching higher into the sky until the next generation of this family played in its shade and gathered its dusty pecans. In the evenings, a grandmother would shell the pecans and add them to recipes for meals and desserts the family would enjoy together.
My sisters and I left our pecan tree many years ago and now live in cities distant from this reality. Who knows who lives in that house today, and if on windy nights anyone can hear the sighs and creaks of our nogal or the laughter of children who’ve played in its shade.
One of the candies my mother made with the shelled pecans was nogada. I always took it for granted that someone would make nogada in the fall, that there would always be a plate of nogada to finish a meal in the winter. Alas, I never asked my mother for the recipe! I’ve had to experiment and to remember the sweet, nutty taste and the combination of ingredients: anise seed, piloncillo, cinnamon, and fresh pecans. It’s taken several attempts, but I finally have it.
- 4 cups of the freshest whole pecan halves you can find
- 2 large piloncillo (brown sugar) cones purchased from store that carries latino groceries
- 1 ½ cup water.
- 1 tablespoon anise seed
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- Break up the piloncillo into manageable pieces and boil it in the water until it’s at ‘punto de bola’, that is, when it you test it by dropping some in a glass of water and it forms a little ball rather than dissolving completely.
- This will take some time, about 10 minutes.
- Remove it from the heat and stir for about a minute more until it stiffens even more. Stir in the pecans and spoon them on a wax paper until they cool off.