In-season pecans can be used in savory or sweet dishes

Health experts say that when eaten in moderation, nuts are considered a good-for-you food because they have a lot of “good” heart-healthy fats or unsaturated fats that can help lower total blood cholesterol. What luck then that the sweet, richly flavored pecan, a Southern favorite, is available now at local farmers markets to add to holiday dishes or eat out of hand.

The American native is a member of the hickory family. The nut has a hard, smooth, tan shell and its nutmeat is in two halves. The peak season for unshelled pecans is in the fall.

The pecan contains no cholesterol, sodium and trans fat, but does contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc, according to the National Pecan Shellers Association (ilovepecans.org).

Store tightly wrapped unshelled pecans in a cool, dry place for up to six months. Refrigerate shelled pecans in an airtight container for about 3 months; freeze for up to six months.

Pecans can be used in savory dishes, including salads and poultry stuffing, candies or cakes as well as the decadent, diet-busting pecan pie.

— Cheramie Sonnier