Pecan love is rampant in South Carolina, soaring higher than the shady, long-leafed trees on which they grow. But nowhere is that ardor more passionately expressed than in my hometown of Florence, where pecans are a part of the town’s heritage. On the first Saturday of November, the entire town goes nuts, literally, when it throws the South Carolina Pecan Festival. More than 50,000 revelers fill the streets of downtown to enjoy a full day of family-friendly fun, including everything from live music to cook-offs to local art and, of course, plenty of pecan goodies. All to celebrate Florence’s long history of producing delicious pecans.
Florence is also home to the South Carolina Pecan Trail, a circuit of 17 businesses offering the pecan’s buttery flavors in specialty dishes and treats year-round. So you don’t have to wait until November to go nuts. I surely didn’t.
Begin at the beginning
My journey began at the Florence Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), where I picked up an official Pecan Trail Passport. The booklet is not only your map to participating establishments, but a ticket to acquiring pecan-related gifts.
Visit each location, make a purchase and have your passport stamped. When you have enough stamps, head back to the CVB to claim your prize. Four stamps gets you a nifty nutcracker; eight stamps, the nutcracker and a Pecan Trail drawstring bag; and a fully stamped book gets the nutcracker, bag and a Pecan Trail T-shirt.
I decided to go all the way. How long would it take to fill my passport? It was time to get cracking.
Day 1: Friday
I kicked off my trail challenge in downtown Florence with pecan-pie martinis at Victors with my gal pals. They really did taste like pecan pie, and I got my first stamp!
Next, we walked across the street to Town Hall for braised Angus beef, whipped potatoes and roasted vegetables slathered with pecan pesto. With our freshly stamped passports, our group ended the night at The Library, where a cozy, speakeasy feel made it the perfect place to linger over a delectable slice of bourbon pecan pie and a cordial.
Day 2: Saturday
I began the day at Venus Pancake House, where I fueled up with a heaping stack of Southern pecan pancakes. The only thing more satisfying was the new stamp in my passport. Then, I went to the renowned pecan purveyor Young Plantations to find a gift for my sister, who was visiting. I chose a mix of chocolate-dipped, honey-glazed and chocolate-toffee pecans, which earned me another passport stamp.
My sister arrived just in time for a late lunch at Wholly Smokin’, where the goat-cheese salad came with a decadent pecan-studded goat-cheese patty.
For dinner, my sister wanted pasta. I wanted fish. Stefano’s was the restaurant for both, and also a stop on the trail. While she twirled a huge plate of luscious alfredo, I savored pecan-encrusted grouper and a salad made with strawberries and even more pecans.
I collected another stamp, then consulted my passport for dessert ideas. The sweet-potato cheesecake at Tubb’s Shrimp and Fish Co. sounded irresistible, and it was. My passport was getting nearly as full as my tummy.
Day 3: Sunday
Over morning coffee, I served my sister a sweet surprise on the side. On Saturday, I had also picked up a pair of pecan danishes from Freeman’s Bakery.
By dinnertime, we had picked up ready-made candied pecan brie-stuffed chicken from Block and Vino. And just like that, I had collected 10 stamps in one weekend! Fueled by Florence’s pecan passion and the promise of a sweet new T-shirt, the finish line was in sight. But what’s the rush? Savoring the final stretch would give me a good excuse to join work mates for happy hour, organize another girls’ night out and steal away for some sweet indulgences.
I still had seven stamps left to get, so there would be a lot more pecan crunching in the days that followed. Which nutty delights would get me to the finish line? Maybe a White Russian Pecan Pie from Julia Belle’s, followed by Red Bone Alley’s famous pecan chicken salad. Pecan scones from Top Hat Special-Teas and a Pecans Gone Wild Smoked Brown Ale from Seminar Brewing. A double-chocolate-chip pecan muffin from Dolce Vita, as well as a Southern maple pecan oatmeal cookie from Clay Pot. And for a grand finale, a wood-fired masterpiece from Rebel Pie—a luscious Pecan Danish Pizza.