Brown-Sugared Pecans (or Walnuts)

Reader Contribution by Wendy Akin
article image

A friend gave me this recipe nearly 50 years ago. Back then, the recipe was for walnuts, but since moving South, I now use pecans. These are addictive! You can’t eat just one. The recipe is easily doubled and I usually do. Prettily packaged, these make a nice little Christmas gift.


  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp best cinnamon
  • 1 tsp grated orange peel*
  • 6 tbsp milk (3/8 cup)
  • 1 tsp best vanilla
  • 2-1/2 cups pecan halves
  • a pinch or two of best sea salt


  1. I use my grandmother’s ancient cast-aluminum pot for this and the big wooden spoon I use for jam. Clip on a good candy thermometer.
  2. In a heavy pot — at least 4-quart capacity — stir together the brown sugar, sea salt and cinnamon. Add the orange peel and the milk and stir well. Cook, stirring occasionally, to the soft ball stage, 238 degrees Fahrenheit. Watch carefully when it begins to boil — the last few degrees go fast. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and then the pecan halves. 
  3. Stir, using a folding motion until the candy turns opaque and starts to set. This will take about 5 minutes of pretty heavy lifting — my arm does get tired, but so worth it!
  4. Turn the nuts out onto a parchment lined tray. If you like, quickly sprinkle a pinch or two of salt over the nuts while they’re hot. I use Fleur de Sel. Maldon is good, or whatever you have. Using two forks, separate the nuts to individual halves. Work quickly.
  5. Allow the nuts to cool completely before packing. Store these airtight. I often pack them into quart canning jars.

About Orange Peel and Lemon

Waste not, want not. Use all of the peel and keep it handy always.

So many holiday recipes call for grated orange peel; I use it in these confections and also in my Christmas Stollen and pastries and even in some stir fries. Scrub a large orange, then use a potato peeler to peel off the outer zest. Drop the strips of peel into the mini prep processor, add a tablespoon or so of white sugar and process to a grated consistency. Remove the white inner peel (pith) and eat the orange.

Store the peel in a small jar in the freezer. It’s easy to spoon out a spoonful or two.

Now, do the same thing with a couple nice lemons and always have citrus zest on hand.

Wendy Akin is happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.