Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Grove, Nuts to You, and a Stump or Two

I grew up in the midst of a bunch of nuts
AND stumps.

No, not my family, although we have lots of 'characters' to say the VERY least, I literally grew up surrounded by pecans.

Vintage print of pecan varieties.
Our grove was made up of both Schleys (pronounced Sly and spade shaped)
and Stuarts (thin shelled and easiest to crack)

In my earliest childhood, the age when Christmas is truly magical and memories of a lifetime are made, we lived on our cotton farm on the Coldwater River in the Mississippi Delta.

Christmas morning in the house on the river
ca 1966

Our home was situated in a curve of the river on the edge of a forty acre pecan grove. 

 A gravel road, then known as Bell's Road after my grandfather Frank A. Bell, ran along the eastern length of our yard coming from the direction of Lambert, curved with the river, and ran along the northern length of our yard as well, heading toward Marks. 

This land right on the river was some of the most fertile on the farm, and my grandfather, Grandpa Bell as we have always called him,
planted it in pecan trees in the early 1930's.

Frank A. Bell, my Grandpa Bell, died when my Mother was only three.
He planted "The Grove" in the early 1930s
and three more generations enjoyed its abundance.

By the time my middle sister Susan and I were old enough to rip and roar and do some general outdooring, the pecan trees were well mature.
They provided us with a wonderful world.

In spring, the red clover that Daddy had seeded, just like Grandpa Bell had done, was Dorothy's field of poppies and we were
 "Off to See the Wizard".

Several times in the summers during bad storms, huge trees would be blown down, becoming enchanted bower houses that we could enter, roam around in the topsy turvy 'rooms', and play house with our dolls and dogs, tea partying on
stumps and downed trunks.

Susan and I would use the summer green pecans for our tea parties,
placing them on our little plates and one in each cup in our little tiny muffin tins.

But late fall and Christmas were the best. 
Daddy devised a tree shaker that reached the tallest part of the pecan trunk and, powered by a tractor, would literally shake all the pecans loose, creating a pecan rain and a pecan carpet.

The orchard would be filled with people, quickly scooping handfuls of the pecans and filling huge burlap bags, or croker sacks as they were called, which Daddy hauled to Clarksdale for cracking.  

Susan and I would scoop up a few nuts in our little sacks and haul them to the house, where we would try our hand at
manual cracking.

But the big reward came a couple of weeks later. Daddy would come home with dozens of brown grocery bags full of mostly perfect pecan halves and cracked shells,

Susan and I would sit with a sack and 'help' pick out pecans.  We mostly wound up eating pecans until we were about to burst. 

We gave huge buckets of picked pecans for Christmas presents to friends.

We enjoyed many cookie sheets of toasted pecans and lots of homemade Karo Pecan Pie.
And our freezer was jam packed with pecans.

The first recipe, other than something from Easy Bake, that I ever made was 
'Pecan Pralines' from the red checked "Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook" when I was about eight, with my grandmother Nanny's help of course.

I had eaten pralines in New Orleans
I wanted to make candy for Christmas

My beloved grove is now gone, destroyed by a bad ice storm in the mid 1990's.  The wrecked and beloved trees had to be pushed down. 

I am so glad that my oldest son Trainor was old enough to have memories of
 'The Grove' though.

My son Trainor standing in our beloved grove, which was planted by
 his great grandfather more than sixty years earlier,
 the day it was pushed down after a severe ice storm during the winter.

I have not lived on the farm since I was nine, but pecans and nuts have always been a big part of Christmas for me ever since. 

I miss the big brown paper bags full, but
I still love to cook with pecans during the holidays.

This year I am trying out Pecan Punch from Drew Stevens of Oxford's Snackbar.
(see recipe below)

And of course we are having
 Nanny's Cheery Cherry Christmas Salad
with pecans.
Nanny's recipe, in her writing, for the Cherry Salad. 
She always made it at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Yes, it is a congealed salad, but I still love it for its tartness and crunch.
Use DARK cherries and the wild or dark cherry jello, and of course pecans!
The color is an exquisite jewel.

Hmmm, and who knows? 
I still love to make candy for Christmas. 
With a scant week to go, I have visions of making pecan pralines, pecan divinity, pecan brittle, and pecan toffee
dancing in my head. 


I think one of the reasons I have always loved Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" is that, like Clara or Marie, I too dreamed of nutcrackers as a young girl.

I bought my first German nutcracker on a trip during college and hand carried the blue soldier home with me from Rothenburg, the 'Eternal Town of Christmas' in Germany.
(see below for a history of the
 German wooden nutcracker)

When Trainor was born, I started collecting them for him, and later for my younger 
son Duncan as well, buying each of them a nutcracker every year at Christmas. 

This four foot tall nutcracker is one of Trainor's favorites. 
We bought it one year at the gift shop of a Russian "Nutcracker" performance.

I bought this precious  Mushroom Man for Duncan's first Christmas.
  It makes me want to make a Buche de Noel or Stump Cake with Meringue Mushrooms!

The meringue mushrooms are my favorite part, but of course I love the way the stump looks!

For years we have made a family tradition of attending the Ballet Mississippi's Christmas production of the "Nutcracker".  

One Christmas when my baby sister Ellen was a soldier AND a mouse, the ballet director tried her best to get Daddy to play
Herr Drosselmeyer, but to no avail!

Trainor's Clara and Herr Drosselmeyer.
We bought these at a Christmas shop in New Orleans
 that sadly did not reopen after Katrina.

Both my boys are away this year at school, so I did not attend the "Nutcracker", but this week my inspiring friend, client,  accomplished ballerina, and now choreographer Cherri Barnett invited me to the adult ballet class that she teaches at the Mississippi Arts Center.  She made me want to dance and get out the nutcrackers!

Cherri (second from left, seated on the front row, and her class).
Cherri is now the Associate Artistic Director of Ballet Mississippi.
Cherri has danced with the Fort Worth Ballet and was the
principal dancer for Ballet Missisippi for nine yerars.
She is a board member for the IBC, International Ballet Competition,
which Jackson proudly hosts every four years.

And I DID . . .

I am using our nutcrackers in the dining room this Christmas. 

I am decorating the dining room table with the nutcrackers for the first time.
I am thinking nutcrackers, small Christmas trees, moss, red roses, red tulle, plaid, and nuts of course, with my Mother's green and cream wedding china
for a woodsy Bavarian forest/nutcracker ballet tablescape.

Mother's wedding china which was our good china in the house on the river
Flintridge Avalon
The green is the color of cotton foliage and end of summer pecan foliage

With maybe a small stump or two.

 I am STILL loving stumps -- tables that
are stumps, earthy and elegant . . .

They are very trendy now, but I have loved them since I was in "The Grove".

Thierry Gerber stump stools in Broosk Saib's London home
I love the different colors and bark textures

Groundwork Group table in Ashley Stark's Manhatten apartment
shown on Elle Decor's December 2011 cover

I am giving myself something special for Christmas this year . . .

Two specially cut PECAN stump tables from Kristin Wooten's Etsy shop 
Kristin will have them custom cut and
add wheels, if you wish. 
She donates part of the proceeds to the Church Health Center in Memphis.

I am leaving mine natural, but they could be painted white or a color, and of course gilded like in my recent Midas blog.

So in wishing you a MERRY CHRISTMAS,
I say, "Nuts to You, and a Few Stumps too!"
And that is a very good thing!

 Do you say say pee-can or peh-kahn?
( I am a devout peh-kahner!)
Are nuts part of your Christmas celebration?

Do you collect nutcrackers?

What other collections do you decorate with at Christmas?

Pecan Punch

1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup cane syrup
1 tablespoon cream of coconut
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup water
1/4 cup bourbon

Bake chopped pecans in single layer in a shallow pan at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes until toasted and fragrant, stirring once.
Cool 10 minutes.
Process pecans, cane syrup, cream of coconut, cinnamon, vanilla, and kosher salt in food processor 30 to 60 seconds or until smooth. 
With processor running, pour water through food chute.
Press mixture through a fine wire mesh strainer into a pitcher using the back of a spoon.
Discard solids.
Cover and chill 3 to 24 hours.
Stir in bourbon before serving.
Serve over ice.
Garnish with sweetened whipped cream and fresh mint.
Makes 2 cups.

For Milky Pecan Punch: Add 1 cup milk with bourbon.
Makes 3 cups.

History of the Nutcracker 


  1. The stump tables and stools are awesome! Kristin is very talented.

  2. Thank you for the Beautiful post! i love the stump stools on wheels—my son would enjoy them. Lissy

  3. I loved reading this interesting and joyful account of a beautiful childhood, with nuts and stumps.
    I was transported back to playing house with you and and sister. Such fun.
    I am your new follower and found you through little Augury -
    I look forward to your visit.

    Helen xx

  4. Just found you and am thrilled to start the new year with such a fabulous blog...thank you little Augury. I hope the rest of Twenty Twelve will be filled with lots of nuts!!!

  5. Wonderful post! Found you through Little Augury too. Look forward to more!
    Drop by my garden and take a look around. I often say the only regret I have about my property is the lack of Pecan Trees!! They were on my 'wish list' when searching for an antibellum home with acreage & mature trees here in Georgia.

  6. Hello, I arrived to this site from "Little Augrey" one of my favorite blog sites and now yours as well! I loved the photo of the pecan grove, it reminded me of where I attended boarding school in Keysville, GA, our school was started beleive it or not in a pecan grove! So your photo gave me chills the memory of those times were so special to me as well. Great post!

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