Word on the streets, wherever Black women are talking about food and heritage, is that butter pecan ice cream is Black History. It’s our thing. Or is it? The question is worthy and often asked. Some of the good women in the Culinary Cousins Grits Club took time to share their thoughts on butter pecan ice cream and their southern heritage.
Culinary Cousins Grits Club is a group of Black women (and some men) with food businesses and blogs who meet regularly on the social platforms Clubhouse and Facebook to discuss the business of food. Founded by chef and caterer Chanel Young, the club provides professional support as well as much-needed encouragement to those developing businesses at all stages. And when asked, they will talk about butter pecan ice cream; pronouncing pecan in every way imaginable.
Puh kaan or PEE-can?
“Oh my goodness, butter pecan ice cream. It’s my favorite,” said Michelle Roberts of Dr. Shell’s Soul Food Cooking, Atlanta. “My grandmother in Jacksonville (Florida) had a pecan tree on her property, and when I’d visit she’d make butter pecan ice cream from scratch.” Michelle added that her grandmother would roast her pecans coated in a bit of salt and honey before folding them into the vanilla ice cream she churned.
Pecans are plentiful throughout the South. They are grown and harvested in southern states, primarily those regions near the Mississippi River, including northern Mexico. The pecan is included in state symbols of Alabama, Arkansas, California, Oklahoma, and Texas. The pecan’s sweet, buttery taste is enhanced with more butter, sweeteners like brown sugar and honey, which is why it’s the star of pralines, pie and other desserts like ice cream.
Visual food storyteller and baker Terika Baker Wright recalls her great-grandmother Ida Jefferson’s love for “pecan cream,” which was her name for butter pecan ice cream. Wright says, “She only ate two types of ice cream but butter pecan was her favorite.” The memory of visiting with Ida and the part “pecan cream” played in a loving exchange between the two is priceless to Terika. Her cousin, Tarilyn Dukes recalls spending time during the summers in Jasper, Florida, where there were pecan trees in need of picking and butter pecan ice cream every Sunday.
Like Dr. Shell, Baton Rouge caterer and event planner Karondellet Williams’s grandmother in the smalltown of Greensburg, Louisiana had a pecan tree, and delighted in teaching the chef and her cousins how to churn ice cream that she’d turn into butter pecan ice cream. “If we wanted her ice cream, we had to take turns churning for hours.” The chef’s grandmother didn’t stop with the churning, she involved her grandchildren in every aspect from milking cows to cracking pecans until there was a final product for them to enjoy.
While there is nothing to support that pecan ice cream is a Black thing, the women of Culinary Cousins Grit Club have offered every practical and wonderful reason why butter pecan ice cream is a favorite in Black homes with southern roots. They have noted the accessibility of pecans, the home cooking skills of grandmothers who made everything from scratch, and as Chef Shell mentioned, the joy of eating something that was both sweet and savory.
In 2021, we have become accustomed to elevated and innovative frozen treats we can purchase at the grocery store, but sitting nearby is the standard butter pecan ice cream. It’s still here. It’s not going anywhere.3