© Denzil Green
What’s better? Georgia Pecans? Texas Pecans? Louisiana? North Carolina? Most people love them all. You can buy them shelled or unshelled; you can even buy New Mexico Pecans dusted in red chile powder (presumably not meant for your pies.)
Most (80%) Pecan Nuts are sold shelled; once shelled they are dried a bit first before packaging. They are graded by size into midget, small, medium, large, extra-large, and mammoth.
The nuts grow in clusters of 3 to 100, with shells 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) long. They are not harvested until they fall to the ground.
Pecan trees are a member of the Hickory family. The trees can grow up to 150 to 180 feet (45 to 55 metres) tall. Trees over 150 years old will have trunks about 3 feet (1 metre) wide.
They are deciduous trees, with dark, yellowish-green leaves up to 12 to 20 inches (30 to 50 cm) long. The top of the leaves can be smooth or slightly hairy. Cultivars have been developed which can thrive in colder regions as far north as New Jersey.
The trees start producing nuts when they are 5 to 6 years old, but really only hit their production stride when they are about 20 years old, and start producing about 500 pounds (230kg) a year each.
To make Pecans easier to shell, bring some water to the boil, then take off the heat. Put your Pecans in shells into the water and let soak for 10 minutes.
To make 1 x 9 inch (23 cm) Pecan Pie, you need anywhere from 1 to 1 1/2 cups of Pecans.
Not that you needed any encouragement to dig into a slice of Pecan Pie or anything, but though Pecans are high in fat (70% fat), 90% of that fat is polyunsaturated, which helps to lower bad cholesterol in your body. Beyond that, Pecans are brimming with Vitamin A, folic acid, B vitamins, zinc, calcium and magnesium.
2 pounds (900g) in shell = 1 pound (450g) shelled = 4 cups shelled
Store shelled Pecans at room temperature for 2 months, in refrigerator for 9 months, or in freezer for 2 years. Pecans in the shell can be stored at room temperature for anywhere from 1/2 a year to 1 year.
Pecans are native to the Mississippi Valley region of America down to central Mexico. Indians loved and used them. The Spanish in Southern California were cultivating them by the early 1700s. The French in Louisiana started exporting them in 1802.
Pecan plantations were established in Australia starting in 1968, though irrigation is usually necessary.
French cooks in Louisiana invented Pecan Pie sometime in the mid to late 1700s.
Literature & Lore
The word “Pecan” is a word from the Algonquin language meaning “nut that you need to bash with a rock”. How it’s pronounced depends on where you are; in Texas it is pronounced “puh-kon”. Brits pronounce it “PEE-kan”, like those things that go under your bed at night.
The Pecan tree is the state tree of Texas.
Albany, Georgia calls itself the Pecan capital of America. Every year, it crowns a National Pecan Queen.
Damrosch, Barbara. Why everyone should have a pecan tree. The Washington Post. 27 April 2011.