In season: Pecans

Pecans are always in demand in Southern kitchens, but in December, they have a starring role in many holiday treats. The good news is that fresh Georgia pecans are available now and in good supply. Al Pearson of Pearson Farm in Fort Valley told me, “Georgia has a nice crop [this year], and we’re looking forward to a good season. But prices are going to be high.”

The high prices reflect two things: the toll Georgia’s drought has taken on recent harvests and the rising demand in China for Georgia pecans. When harvest falls short of demand, the impact is felt not only that year, but in the year following. So this winter, we can expect to find plenty of pecans, but to pay dearly for them.

Over on Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue, chef Sonya Jones uses her share of pecans. There are three things she always has available in the display cases at her Sweet Auburn Bread Co.: pound cake, sweet potato cheesecake and pecan pies. She sells her pecan pies in both regular size and miniature versions.

Her pecan pie recipe is one of the highlights of her long-awaited new cookbook, “Sweet Auburn Desserts: Atlanta’s Little Bakery That Could” (Pelican Publishing Co., $24.95). “People have been asking me to do this book for years,” she told me, and she at long last found the time to share her special take on traditional Southern African-American baking.

The cookbook has just been selected for the Food Network’s holiday Cookbook Gift Guide, and Jones has book signings scheduled all over the metro area. From 1 to 4 p.m. Dec. 3, she’ll be at the High Museum of Art signing books.

The cookbook has at least four recipes featuring pecans: Southern Pecan Pie, Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Bars, German Chocolate Cake with coconut-pecan frosting and a fresh apple pound cake.

Jones has a special love for pecans. She grew up in the Atlanta area but spent her summers with her relatives in Marianna, Fla. Jones remembers hours spent happily cracking pecans from the grandmother’s trees. “There were always pecans around in some form. Some would be cracked, some we would crack; we ate them as snacks and they were used in different dishes.”

Jones learned to cook by hanging around the kitchen with her mother. “She had a neighborhood cafe and I did some baking there, making things like sweet potato pie. One thing evolved into the next, and by 1997, I had opened my bakery,” she said.

For the holidays, we selected one of Jones’ bar cookie recipes, her Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Bars. They’re easily made from ingredients most of us have at home, and feature a perennial favorite combination: chocolate and pecans.

At local farmers markets

Cooking demonstration

10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 3. Chef Peter Dale of the National in Athens. Peachtree Road Farmers Market, Atlanta.

For sale

Vegetables and fruit: African squash, arugula, Asian greens, beans, beets, broccoli, broccoli raab, butternut squash, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, collards, dandelion, endive, escarole, fennel, field peas, garlic, hareuki and other turnips, herbs, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mache, mizuna, mustard greens, pea shoots, pecans, peppers, persimmons, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, radicchio, rutabagas, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes

From local reports

Sweet Auburn Bread Co.’s Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Bars

Hands on: 15 minutes

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Makes: 30 squares

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided

1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, divided

1 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup cocoa powder

Pinch of salt

3 eggs

1/4 cup bourbon

1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

Powdered sugar, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. To make removing the bars easier, line the baking dish with parchment paper or aluminum foil, lightly sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine flour and 1/2 cup sugar. Slice 2 sticks butter into small pieces and using a fork or pastry blender, cut butter into flour and sugar until mixture resembles coarse meal. Press mixture into bottom of prepared baking dish and bake 15 minutes or until the crust just begins to turn brown. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 350 degrees.

While crust is baking, melt remaining 1/2 stick butter. In a large bowl, combine melted butter, remaining 1 cup sugar, corn syrup, cocoa powder and salt. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Stir in bourbon and pecans.

When crust has browned, carefully pour chocolate mixture over crust and bake 40 minutes or until set. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before cutting into 30 squares.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

Adapted from a recipe in “Sweet Auburn Desserts: Atlanta’s Little Bakery That Could” by Sonya Jones (Pelican Publishing Co., $24.95).

Per bar: 221 calories (percent of calories from fat, 49), 2 grams protein, 26 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 12 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 42 milligrams cholesterol, 26 milligrams sodium.