A drive through the Mississippi Delta is likely to lead you to a grove of pecan trees. Bushels of the savory, buttery nuts mean one thing: pecan pie. And pecan pie means one thing: entertaining. While likely not the first to combine this Southern staple with entertaining, Billie Crenshaw incorporated pecans into her party planning by tossing them with cinnamon, sugar and her secret blend of spices, and served them to guests. The savory and versatile Southern staple that grew on the Crenshaw’s property in Crenshaw, Mississippi, was instantly transformed. No longer just the key ingredient in pecan pie, these Southern-grown pecans made their way into many dishes and desserts — and are enjoyed year-round.
Pecans are the only tree nut indigenous to the South, and therefore, are closely aligned with Southern tradition. This seemingly simple tree nut is packed with a history that celebrates the South. Today, Billie’s Pecans continues that celebration with pecans. At Billie’s, these pecans are toasted, tossed with cinnamon and spices and coated in chocolate. The company, which today is run by Billie’s daughter-in-law, Stacy Crenshaw, and granddaughter, Bailey Ellis, has expanded beyond pecans. Their offerings include cheese crispies, pecan coffee cake, pepper jelly, chili sauce, chocolate sauce, pecan sandies, pecan brittle, Southern pecan toffee and coffee cakes. Even as the company continues to grow, they keep the ideals of Southern hospitality in mind. “Her traditional elegance of a Southern woman with charm and kindness made her the ultimate hostess,” Stacy says of her mother-in-law. Billie’s Pecans continues the traditions of Billie today with products that are the perfect complement for any gathering.
From appetizers to entrees and from desserts to party favors, pecans can play a part in just about any dish. With the expert help of event planner Amos Gott of AmosEvents, we threw together an afternoon gathering with delicious recipes featuring Billie’s Pecans.
First Amos, reminds us that guests are most comfortable when the host is calm and enjoying the party. “Start early with your preparations and divide things up over a few days in advance so that all you are doing day-of is bringing all of the elements together,” he advises. “Personally I do love to cook — it’s part of the fun of entertaining for me. But I also believe in shortcuts to make the day less stressful — whether it’s buying partially prepared ingredients like chicken that is already grilled or purchasing fruit that is already cut up to take away that headache.”
“The best part of a garden party is the guests’ anticipated ease of the event,” he continues. “The idea of a garden party suggests a calm and easy feeling with cool beverages and tasty summer recipes. As guests arrive, begin introducing those who don’t know each other, giving them a fact or two about each other so they have something to build their own conversation from. Have hors d’oeuvres set out for the pre-meal nibble, or wait staff passing is even more of a treat for guests.”
Here are a few details from our event to help you plan yours:
What’s a good party without a cheese plate? And what’s a good cheese plate without a few pecans? We paired a selection of cheeses — bleu, cheddar and brie — with fresh grapes, Billie’s toasted pecans and Billie’s cheese crispies.”Billie’s flavored pecans and cheese crispies are ideal for snacking on when the party begins and before the meal is served,” Bailey tells us. These, along with creamed cheese topped with Billie’s pepper jelly, kept guests occupied until lunch was served. After the cheese spread had satisfied our guests, we removed it from the hot summer sun, but we left the pecans and crispies, which guests continued to snack on throughout the affair.
“An hour or so into the party, simply walk around and ask guests to move to their seats — telling them if it’s open seating or to find their place card,” Amos suggests. “For a smaller group at your table, lead off the conversation with an interesting topic for the table to start talking about. And then following the meal, let them know what is to follow, whether inviting them to another area for more conversation or a summer game — or making indications that the event is coming to an end.”
Savory meets sweet in this seasonal strawberry fields salad, which kicked off lunch. The simple combination of mixed field greens, sliced strawberries, onions, goat cheese and, of course, toasted pecans, tossed in balsamic vinaigrette is one that can’t be beat. Make this salad your own by swapping goat cheese for feta, adding grilled chicken to serve as a main course or tossing in the dressing of your choice. The pecans add a rich flavor balanced by the sweetness of the strawberries. One of Billie’s most popular items, the cinnamon spiced pecans, are also a delicious option for this, or any salad — if you are looking for an added touch of flavor. “The cinnamon spiced pecans are also great as a dessert dipped in Billie’s famous chocolate sauce,” Bailey shares. Don’t worry, we’ll get back to dessert in a bit.
Cream cheese and pepper jelly is a classic pairing, but we find the jelly to be just as delicious when paired with a piece of meat. Billie’s pepper jelly packs sweetness and heat, which makes it easy to pair with a variety of proteins, including chicken and pork tenderloin. And since summer is the season for grilling, fire up the grill! Or if you’d like to save time, you can leave the grilling to the professionals and simply add the finishing touches for your guests.
Every party needs something sweet! In this case, a few sweet options were provided: Billie’s cinnamon pecan coffee cake and ice cream topped with pecan pieces. The pecan coffee cake is made from scratch using a recipe from Billie’s mother. While they aren’t quick to share the family recipe, you can still enjoy the treat by purchasing this delectable cake. “The coffee cakes make for a wonderful breakfast when entertaining overnight guests,” Bailey says.
As guests left the party, they were given goodie bags of chocolate-covered pecans. “Leaving the party with a little something continues the good vibes. My favorite favors are edible, because who doesn’t like a little snack later? And when guests reach for the little gift bag of Billie’s nuts, they’ll be reminded of what a great time they had at your party,” Amos tells us.
We hope you enjoy the laid-back vibes of summer and the celebrations you have throughout the season! To learn more about Billie’s Pecans and how to incorporate their variety of products into your next gathering, visit billiespecans.com.
Special thanks to Leila Grossman of Grannis Photography for the beautiful photos, Amos Gott for the elegant styling and expert entertaining tips, Please Be Seated for the rentals (including table, chairs and flatware) and the Dunn family for allowing us to celebrate in their gorgeous courtyard.
This article is sponsored by Billie’s Pecans.