For years, the namesake of Molly & Me pecans could be found nestled beneath the towering pecan trees of Kay Holseberg's farm in Holly Hill, South Carolina. Laying comfortably and, most likely, snacking on a few of the passed over nuts from her owner's morning picks, Molly, a presa canario mastiff, was Holseberg's business partner — her daily companion as she spent hours picking up pecans from the trees. And although Molly has since passed, Holseberg carries her memory in the blossoming business she's, quite literally, cultivated from the ground up.
Holseberg was born in the Holy City, but lived all over the nation thanks to her family's military roots. Yet despite traveling for years, Charleston always had her heart, and she knew as soon as she could, her feet would be firmly planted on the thick soil of the Lowcountry. She married and settled in North Charleston, busying her days with a full-time law job, kids, and a husband. But even with her busy schedule, she always felt something was missing. Three decades later, she found what she was looking for.
"I had worked in law firms for 30 years, so I had pretty much gotten to the point where I couldn't sit at a desk for another year, or sit in traffic for another day, so I started looking for our own place out in the country," Holseberg says. "When I was working full-time and living in North Charleston, my husband and I would always drive out to Eutawville to ride horses with my brother-in-law at his farm. The more we drove out there, the less we wanted to come back into town."
It was that farm and those horses that solidified her desire to move to the country. Once her kids left the nest, Holseberg and her husband packed their bags and put their house on the market. It was during that time, while she waited for her house to sell, that an idea came to Holseberg as she sat under the hot Carolina sun beneath her brother-in-law's pecan trees.
"I started picking up pecans at my brother-in-law's farm and experimenting with recipes. I've always loved to bake so it was fun, and such a nice change of pace. Once I had a recipe I liked, I started taking them to the law firm and everyone loved them. It wasn't until I sold them at my law firm for Christmas that I realized I was on to something," she says. Those recipes included bourbon pecans, cinnamon and sugar pecans, and the Charleston favorite, pralines.
It was easy to get caught up in the kitchen, especially in a region so rooted in pecans. At one time, Boone Hall plantation in Mt. Pleasant was home to the the world's largest pecan groves in the early 1900s. So it's no surprise Holseberg found her passion in an age old tradition. That's why when her city house sold and a beautiful old home with pecan trees in the middle of Holly Hill came on the market, the Holsebergs jumped at the opportunity.
"My husband walked around the outside of the house, saw three deer walk across the property, and was immediately sold too," Holseberg says with a laugh.
However, her love of baking pecans was never meant to be a business, not until she received a darling puppy for her birthday, whom she immediately named Molly.
"Since I had such a serious job for so long, I wanted this to be fun, and Molly made me laugh all the time rolling around under the pecan trees, so I decided to name this little passion Molly & Me Pecans. She was the perfect business partner — she thought I was amazing and never complained about anything," Holseberg says. Molly, who is long remembered on Molly & Me's Instagram and Facebook page, remains a big part of the growing business, and her memory keeps Holseberg going.
Like any food business, it was a labor of love, with long nights spent cooking, talking with her daughter about ways to market and process, and hours in the kitchen packaging pecans with her dedicated husband. Finally, after incredible success at farmers market stands, the Holsebergs decided to install a cookhouse on the property to increase the level of production and take the business to the next level.
"The cookhouse is a metal building that we bought and brought over to our property with a John Deere tractor, then renovated into a commercial kitchen. It's where the pecans are cooked, packaged, and shipped. This is where the business truly took off," Holseberg says.
Since installing the cookhouse, Holseberg has hired a full time cook to help her test and taste multiple pecan recipes passed down from generation to generation, as well as a packer to help sort and label the many bags of pecans you find online and at the Charleston Farmers Market, Southern Season in Chapel Hill, and the Boone Hall Market.
"I have two amazing women who work in the cookhouse and I couldn't keep up without them. Teresa cooks circles around anyone, and Cindy does the packaging and shipping. I sneak in here sometimes in the evening and try new recipes, as well as put on the apron to cook when I'm not busy with the day to day workings of the business," Holseberg says. And thanks to the help, the business is booming, with multiple awards and visitors coming from all over the world to stock up on her coveted creations.
"Honestly, most of the recipes we use, my mother passed down to me. The praline pecans are our best seller, but when we came out with the bourbon pecans, people went crazy over them and now are rivaling the sales of the praline," she says. "Seasonally, we like to change the recipes up — and we constantly have people telling us how our sugar and spice nuts remind them of the holidays."
Even though Holseberg is a hometown girl, she says she's by no means a farmer, despite having 45 pecan trees on her property.
"We could be called hobby farmers, but we lease our fields to a "real" farmer. He was leasing it before we bought the place, so we just let him continue to do so. The only farming we do is a large garden for our family, and we have chickens for eggs. The pecan trees were here before us, so they pretty much take care of themselves. I admire the farmers out here — they amaze me with all they do."
Even with such a large fleet of trees, the amount of pecans she gets from them has become barely enough to keep up with the growing demand for her products. Because of that, she's had to purchase pecans in bulk just to produce the sweet Cinnamon and Sugar pecan bundles or the slightly spicy with a kick Sweet Heat bag.
"Pecans are not cheap to buy. A few years ago we heard that China was buying up all the pecans they could get their hands on and I actually talked to a couple of pecan farmers that said instead of selling to several different people, it was easier to just make one big deal and ship them all at one time. Supply and demand always is a factor, no matter what you are selling, so I do think that changed things for the local people who use pecans in their products," Holseberg says.
The pecan price hasn't decreased either, with most 5 ounce bags selling for up to $8 at any Charleston grocery store. The money is there, which is why Holseberg is working with people at the Clemson Extension, a chapter of the Clemson University Campus in Charleston County, to test her soil and configure ways to plant newer trees which bear a heartier crop.
"I am hoping to plant more trees in the horse pasture in rows, but you know what they say about planting pecan trees," she says with a smile. "If you're planting trees now, they will be for the next generation to enjoy. In other words, they don't produce for a long time. Nonetheless, I would still like to plant more trees, whether for me to use or for the future of Molly & Me to have as the business grows."
As for now, Holseberg's trying to use as many of her own pecans as she can in every recipe she bakes, sells, tests, and enjoys.
"Who could have imagined back then that I would be doing this for a living," she says. "It's truly nothing but a labor of love."