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Questions for the Week

PECAN HISTORY,
STRANGE PECAN QUESTIONS,
PLUS RECIPES AND STORAGE

There is only thing more Texan than Longhorn cattle and that is the Pecan, Carya illinoemsis. Even though its scientific name refers to the state of Illinois, Texas has the highest population of native pecan trees in the United States. Texas ranks #2 in the production of both native and the improved pecan varieties.

Consumers should purchase pecans as soon as they are available. When buying pecans be sure you are buying quality nuts. Make sure the nuts are free of stink bug spots (black spots on the kernels), embryo rot (black line in the middle underside of the kernel) and other problems. Also, make sure the kernels are dried down to only 4 or 5% moisture. A well-dried kernel half should "snap" when broken into 2 pieces. Once shelled, the kernels should go directly to the deep freeze to maintain maximum kernel quality. Pecan oil is 75% mono-unsaturated hydrocarbons, which will oxidize and break down very fast, so immediate freezing is essential. Pecan oil is the very finest oil available. However, freezing is essential in maintaining kernel quality.

Here are a few of the area's larger pecan sources, aside from the normal supermarket. In general, these companies buy direct from local pecan growers and sell to the consumer:

Bragg Pecan Farms
229 Hwy. 90 East (just past the Wal-Mart)
PO Box 291
Hondo, Texas 78861
830-741-5215
800-938-0261
website: http://texaspecans.com

Pape Pecan House
101 South Street (at 123 Bypass)
Seguin, Texas
830-379-7442
888-688-7273

Most sources will ship packages of pecans to any destination for you. I would recommend that for shipping, you purchase a quality pecan variety such as Cheyenne or Desirable.

Having bought and eaten pecans, you might ask yourself, "Who was the first to eat a pecan?" Being native to much of the southern United States, the pecan was first used as a food source by North American Indians. For countless thousands of years before the discovery of America, certain tribes of North American Indians were the only people who know about pecan trees. No person from any other part of the world had ever seen this nut, later to be called pecan.

The Indian tribes used the kernels to make powcohicoria. This was done by pounding kernels with stones, and by adding them to boiling water to make seasoning for foods. This mixture was used to thicken venison broth, to season hominy, corn cakes and, in some cases, to ferment an intoxicating drink, popular in tribal festivities.

Since the pecan was so important as a staple food item for the Indians, it is fitting that all of the new US Department of Agriculture pecan varieties are named for Indian tribes. When you plant Hopi, Sioux or Choctaw pecan trees, you are planting a newly developed variety and in a sense, paying homage to the fact that Indians loved pecans and depended on them to sustain life.

Some of the first detailed literature about the pecan was done in the 1530's by the Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca. In his reports tot the Queen of Spain, he mentioned the abundance of this "wonder walnut". The name pecan was not given to the nut until the 1700's.

Cabeza de Vaca's expedition met terrible misfortune and he was captured by Indians near Galveston. In the 6 years he spent as a captive, de Vaca traveled with this captors through the Gulf Coast area and ultimately to the "river of nuts", which was the Guadalupe. There he was tied to a huge pecan tree and ate untold pounds of the small nuts which he called "nueces".

Even in the face of adversity, de Vaca wrote extensively about the pecan. He recorded that the Indians came to the river every second year (a reference to alternate-year bearing habit of pecan trees) and that pecan nuts were all that they had to eat for 2 months.

He eventually escaped his captors in 1535 and returned to Spain with his writings. He had every excuse for dwelling on misfortunes when he wrote his diary. IT is to his everlasting credit that these were mentioned passively and that instead he chose to dwell upon constructive things. In doing so, he was the first explorer to contribute measurably to the literature of the Pecan.

Pecans are among the most delicious foods available on today's produce market. It would be hard to convince squirrels, deer, wild turkey, raccoons, crows and most other wildlife that the pecan is not absolutely number one on the food list.

This delectable nut desired by both man and beast is native to Northern Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Illinois. But, Texas has more native pecan trees than any other state or area-there are some 152 counties in the state where the pecan is found growing along the rich alluvial food plants of major rivers and tributaries.

The pecan is the State Tree of Texas, so declared by the State Legislature as a result of attention focused on this important native tree by the popular governor, James Hogg. It was Gov. Hogg's death bed wish in 1906 that a pecan tree be planted at the head of his grave; and that the pecan nuts be distributed to the people of Texas for them to plant so that Texas might truly become a land of trees.

Gov. Hogg would be pleased to know that his beloved pecan tree was by resolution declared the State Tree of Texas and t hat it has, over the years, become the most widely planted yard tree in this state. Everyone in Texas-homeowners, farmers and school children have a close and special feeling for the pecan tree and look forward to fall when the harvest season arrives and this golden nut is available to enhance our snacks, our meals and our desserts.

The pecan tree contributes heavily to Texas economy and culture. However, I do get strange questions on pecans. I have to cautiously evaluate each question before answering to avoid confusion with categorization. For instance, a distraught homeowner recently wrote, "Help! I've got the largest limbs and the smallest nuts in the neighborhood. I hate to go out in the backyard-all the neighbors ridicule me. Even the ones I have are fuzzy with shriveled meat. What can I do to make my pecan tree produce larger, quality nuts?"

Whew! Until that last sentence I thought I had received a letter intended for a health spa or anatomical engineer. Mental and physical therapy may be necessary ingredients for successful pecan production. It isn't easy!

Each year many homeowners are perplexed to discover that once again their pecan trees have failed to produce. In many cases, the tree once produced, but now, year after year, few if any pecans are produced. Often the pecan tree will produce a crop that outwardly looks acceptable, but upon examination, the interiors of the nuts are only a hollow cavity or even worse, fuzz and shriveled.

Why are your nuts fuzzy and meat shriveled? Improper leaf management may be the main problem. Think of a pecan tree as a very complex factory where leaves are responsible for food production ultimately used in the production of nuts. It takes about 40 pecan leaflets to set and fill out a single pecan nut. During the growing season, foliage assimilates food materials that are translocated and stored in the root system for use the next spring for nut production. Therefore, a shortage of healthy leaves means limited or reduced nut production.

Try to recall at what time of the year your pecan tree usually loses its foliage. So often, in this area of Texas this takes place in late September or fall defoliation.

Early defoliation can be the result of a combination of problems, including scab, downy sot, fungal leaf scorch and/or tree stress. Scab is a fungal disease which appears early on the leaves and nuts as small, black lesions which later enlarge and completely blacken the pecan leaf, eventually killing it and causing defoliation. Scab will also attack and kill the shuck or outer covering of the pecan, and result in a poorly filled or hollow pecan. Although scab is not a problem in dryer, other problems can take its place.

Downy spot is a fungus that infects the leaves at bud-break, but does not affect the trees until late summer when the leaves fall, resulting in poorly filled pecans. Fungal leaf scorch and/or tree stress can also take their toll on the trees.

Associated with scab and these other problems can also be various foliar feeding insects that compound leaf drop problems. Such insects as aphids and mites attack pecan leaves, contributing to early defoliation.

The pecan variety dictates the severity of the pecan scab problem. Many of the older varieties such as Burkett, Delmas, Success and Mahan are very susceptible to scab disease. On the other hand, varieties such as Desirable, Choctaw, Cheyenne and Shawnee are quite resistant to the scab organism.

Pecan varieties not considered scab resistant can only be kept in production through the application of pesticides throughout the growing season. This spray includes the application of an expensive fungicide. Pecan trees are too large to be sprayed with conventional garden equipment. Most homeowners do not have spray equipment that will reach the top of a 30-foot tree.

Therefore, the most logical solution for homeowners wishing to produce pecans in the backyard is to plant the resistant varieties listed above that have sufficient inherent disease resistance to make spraying less essential. These varieties may, however, require some insect control throughout the season.

Remember the pecan when you purchase gifts for the holiday season.

When buying shelled pecans, look for kernels with a bright, golden color. Most packages will have a "best if used by" date on them. Be sure to follow the date codes for maximum freshness. You can extend the recommended dates by storing the pecans in your freezer. The following chart gives the relative storage life of pecans at various temperatures.

Temperature In-Shell Shelled

70 degrees (pantry) 4 months 3 months

40 degrees (refrigerator) 9-18 months 6months

0 degrees (freezer) 2 + years 2 years


Pecans in the shell retain their high quality longer than shelled. Whole halves will keep longer than pieces.

Pecans will absorb odors from other commodities. They should not be stored near onions, oranges, apples and other odiferous products. Kernels will absorb strong odors of wood, ammonia, paint and petroleum products. Pecans should be packaged in sealable cellophane/polyethylene type bags or glass jars with tight-fitting lids.

If you buy in-shell pecans, then a nutcracker for shelling is a must. The inertia-type cracker works quite well and is available in manual or electric models.

Remember, pecans are good sources of protein, phosphorus, thiamine and energy. They also provide some iron, vitamin A, potassium and niacin.

Pecan Recipes


Here are some of my favorites, included in the above websites:

Devine Pecan Pie

One stick oleo margarine, melted
1 ¾ c. sugar
¼ c. flour
3 eggs, beaten well
½ c. buttermilk
1 tsp. Vanilla
1 c. pecans

Add sugar and flower to melted oleo. Fold in eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and pecans. Bake 20 minutes at 375 degrees. Reduce heat to 300 degrees and continue baking for 40minutes. For novice cooks, be sure to check the pie as it is baking and remove the pie before the pecans on the top have blackened or burst into flames! Also, this recipe fills a large pie shell. If a smaller pie shell is used, the extra ingredients can be put in a drinking glass and drank for dessert!! --Poppy Stewart


Mommy Lois' Pecan Pie

1 unbaked pie shell
3 eggs, beaten
½ c. sugar
¾ c. white corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
½ c. melted margarine or butter
Dash of salt
1 c. chopped pecans

Hand beat eggs. Mix all other ingredients. Pour in unbaked pie shell. Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour or until brown and the center does not shake.
--Shirley Johnson


Natalia Dream Bars

½ c. butter or margarine
½ c. sugar
½ c. packed brown sugar
1 c. flour
1 ½ c. coconut
1 ½ c. chopped pecans
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
2 eggs
2 Tbs. melted margarine
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
Confection sugar (to sprinkle on top)

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F. In a medium bowl use finger tips to mix ½ c. brown sugar, ½ c. margarine and 1 c. flour until crumbly. Pat into an
8x12 baking pan, covering the bottom. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool. Meanwhile, mix 1 c. brown sugar, eggs, 2 tbs. flour, baking powder and vanilla. Beat well. Add coconut and pecans. Pour evenly over crust. Bake 20 minutes.
--Amy Noblilt




(Makes one 9-inch pie)

INGREDIENTS:
1 (9-inch) unbaked pastry shell
1 (4-ounce) package sweet cooking chocolate or 2 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate
¼ cup margarine or butter
1 (14-ounce) can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk (NOT evaporated milk!)
½ cup hot water
2 eggs, well beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups pecan halves or pieces



MIXING AND COOKING INSTRUCTIONS:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In medium saucepan, over low heat, melt chocolate and butter. Stir in Eagle Brand, hot water and eggs; mix well. Remove from heat; stir in remaining ingredients. Pour into prepared pastry shell. Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until center is set but BEFORE it bursts into flames. Cool. Chill 3 hours. Garnish as desired. Refrigerate leftovers.
Other pecan recipes can be found at:
 


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