Food Columnist Judi Leaming takes a trip to the South and tries out tasty pecan treats including Chocolate Pecan Pudding Cakes, Raspberry Cheese Spread, Pecan Pork Loin for Two and Pecan Pie Mini-Muffins.

As I write this, we are en route to Mobile, Ala., to judge a very large barbecue competition. We’ve come quite a distance from Dover and along the way I am always on the lookout for appealing recipes. Last weekend we were in Pensacola, Fla., judging — you guessed it — barbecue, and then we traveled right along the Gulf Coast over to the very, very southern shores of Alabama to rest and relax in Gulf Shores, Ala.

As we headed just slightly northwest toward Mobile, we found ourselves driving through pecan groves and soon we saw signs for B&B Pecans, a family-owned pecan orchard and retail store just outside the storybook town of Fairhope. On the day we visited, the store was filled with “snowbirds” who came in with lists and addresses to have their gift purchases shipped to family and friends back home. You can read more about the Brown/Bishop family who formally began this business in 1956 (and order pecans) by going to Incidentally, many rural homes in this area are surrounded by pecan trees and those people can take their pecan harvest to B&B to have them custom shelled.

I was looking through the cookbooks being offered for sale when Spicer happened to notice a notebook that read “pecan recipes — help yourself” and featured a very interesting and diverse collection of recipes. As I glanced through these, pulling out more and more to share with you, I began to get very hungry and homesick for my kitchen in Dover. I’m including just a few of these recipes and I’ll be testing some of the others when we return to Dover.

Meanwhile, read on and indulge.

Chocolate Pecan Pudding Cakes
1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons baking cocoa
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
2/3 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons baking cocoa
Hot water
Whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 6 six-ounce custard cups and set aside. In a large bowl, combine flour, 2/3 cup granulated sugar, 3 tablespoons cocoa, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In another bowl, combine milk, melted butter and vanilla extract just until combined. Stir into dry ingredients just until combined; stir in pecans. Divide evenly between the six greased custard cups. Combine brown sugar and remaining 3 tablespoons cocoa, stirring to mix well. Sprinkle evenly over batter in cups. Carefully pour 2 tablespoons of hot water over mixture in custard cups. Place all on a baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 22 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in cake portion comes out clean. Cool on wire racks for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of each cup and invert onto dessert plates. Serve warm topped with whipped cream.

Raspberry Cheese Spread
4-ounces (half of an 8-ounce package) cream cheese, softened
1 cup mayonnaise
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup seedless raspberry preserves

Beat together cream cheese and mayonnaise until well blended. Beat in cheeses and green onions. Stir in pecans. Spread mixture in plastic lined 9-inch round bowl. Refrigerate until set. Invert onto a serving plate. Remove plastic wrap. Spread top evenly with raspberry preserves. Serve with crackers. Makes about 3 1/2 cups.

Pecan Pork Loin for Two
1 pork tenderloin (about 3/4 pound)
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup apple juice
1 cup apple pie filling
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Rub pork tenderloin with salt and pepper. Place in a large resealable plastic bag; add apple juice and seal bag. Turn to coat. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drain and discard apple juice. Place pork on a rack in a roasting pan. Combine the pie filling, raisins, pecans and cinnamon. Spoon over pork. Bake uncovered in preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes until internal temperature of pork reaches 160-degrees. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Makes 2 servings but recipe can easily be doubled to serve 4.

Pecan Pie Mini-Muffins
2/3 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, room temperature, beaten
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients just until blended. Fill 24 to 26 mini-muffin tins 2/3 full. Bake in preheated oven for about 20 minutes. Can be frozen.