My kid was a little nervous.

I was preparing for my second contest of this year’s state fair: North Carolina Pecan Association’s Pecan Recipe Competition. My culinary school-educated child was about to be a judge for the first time.

“Don’t worry. It’s fun and relaxed,” I advised. “Lisa [Prince, contest organizer] walks us through, and you’ll meet some really nice media and food people. And besides, folks that enter cooking contests know how to cook. In three years I’ve never eaten anything really horrible.”

And then, twelve hours later, I literally spat out one contestant’s very ill-considered creation to make room to eat those words. It was such a visually appealing entry, but it tasted so darn bad. My body firmly decided there was no way that stuff was staying inside my body. I desired discretion, but glancing around at my fellow jurists, I realized my bite wasn’t the only one making a hasty exit. This stuff was aggressively, malevolently awful. It was an anomaly.

But the good stuff was good—no question. Fifteen-year-old Samantha Leonard from Archdale won first place with Papi’s Pecan Pie Pancakes. Not only are they extremely tasty, the judges all agree they’d be terrific for brunch.

Saturday is my last competition, with two categories: one for adults and one for kid chefs.


Now I’m a little nervous.

First Place: Samantha Leonard, Archdale
Papi’s Pecan Pie Pancakes

2 cups flour
3 Tbsp. white sugar
2 Tbsp. baking powder
2 eggs
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 3/4 cups milk
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar (to sprinkle on pancakes)

Mix the flour, white sugar, baking powder, and pecans until well combined. Add the milk and eggs and mix until combined; you will still have lumps. Add cinnamon and melted butter.

Preheat pan to 350 degrees and butter lightly. Pour a healthy 1/2 cup of batter in pan, distributing the pecans. Before flipping the pancake, sprinkle about a tablespoon of brown sugar on pancake. Try to avoid edges, because it will burn. For a crunchier cake, you can add more pecans with the brown sugar as well.

Second Place: Craig Partin, Garner
Chocolate Malted-Pecan Crunch Snack

3 cups Corn Chex brand cereal
3 cups Wheat Chex brand cereal
3 cups NC Pecans, chopped and toasted
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup butter
1 cup chocolate malted milk powder
1 1/2 cups mini marshmallow
1 1/4 cups dried cherries, chopped

In a large bowl, mix cereals and pecans until well blended.

In a medium microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips and butter on high setting for 15 second increments, stirring at the end of each, until melted and smooth. Pour over cereal mixture: stir together until evenly coated.

Stir in malted milk powder gradually until evenly coated. Stir in marshmallows and dried cherries until well mixed.

*To toast pecans, spread nuts onto a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until light golden brown.

Third Place: Domino Ireland, Raleigh
Salty, Sweet & Heat Pecan Peppadews

Makes about 40-45 bite-size treats

1 cup Pecan quarters seasoned with sea salt
14 oz. jar of Peppadew peppers (mild whole, sweet, piquant peppers)
1 cup Crème Fraiche
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. seasoned salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Leaving the same amount of pecan quarters as there are peppadew peppers, pulse the remaining pecans in a food processor until coarsely chopped.

In a bowl, mix the pecans, crème fraiche, sugar, salt and black pepper until well combined. Place in a large zip lock bag and cut one corner about 1/4 inch. Use this to “pipe” the mixture into each pepper. Insert one pecan quarter into each. Chill for one hour and serve.