Plant Answers  >  Pecan History - Recipes and Storage

Return to Gardening Columns Main Index

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


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR
FOURTH WEEK OF NOVEMBER 2002


QUESTION: Through the Aggie Horticulture web site, I have learned that late February and early March is the best time to prune/trim live oak trees. When I cut off branches, do I need to apply something to the cut area? Also, we have a relatively young live oak tree, about 5 to 7 inches in diameter. This tree needs to be moved because our new road will pass where it presently is growing. Can we successfully transplant it, how should it be done, can we expect it to survive, etc.?

ANSWER: Because of the prevalence of the oak wilt fungal disease in our area, it is recommended that all fresh wounds to a live oak tree be painted with tree wound dressing or a spray paint as soon as possible after the cut is made. This seals in the flow of sap which is the attractant for the sap beetle that can carry the fungus to the tree.

The size of the root-ball that would be required to successfully transplant the tree that you wish to move would make it very difficult to do manually. There are machines that would be able to do it and I'm sure that there are people who do this in the San Antonio area. If you will look in the yellow pages of your phone book under "Trees" you will find a couple of companies who advertise moving large trees.


QUESTION: I have discovered twig girdlers in my pecan trees. Could you please tell me when and what I can use to spray for them. I found a chart and it gave information about spraying each month, but it did not include October, November or December. What can I do now? Is it too late to spray or will they die off on their own?

ANSWER: See the University of Missouri at Columbia article on twig girdlers that can be found at this website:

http://extension.missouri.edu/p/g7276

This is what it says about control of the twig girdler:

"Control: Homeowners should collect and destroy infested twigs and branches they find on the ground, beginning in September or no later than May. If practical, prune infested twigs still in the tree. Owners of commercial pecan orchards should look for severed twigs, beginning in August. Apply insecticide (azinphosmethyl or carbaryl) to trees only if you see damage. In severe cases, you may need to apply insecticide 2 to 3 times at 2-week intervals. Be sure to follow label rates and directions."


QUESTION: I have a mature crape myrtle that has flower buds that never did open this past season. Should they be snipped off or just leave them alone?

ANSWER: I don't know that it makes any difference other than aesthetics. Sometime between now and when they start new growth next spring you will probably want to clip off any of the old seed pods and dead, unopened flower buds (which they will be after the first freeze). When you do this procedure is up to you.


QUESTION: If beans are legumes, potatoes are tubers and cucumbers are gourds, what are vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.?

ANSWER: Beans are a legume, which is the fruit or pod of the botanical family Leguminosae. The potato tuber is actually the greatly enlarged tip of the underground stem of the potato. Cucumbers are a member of the Cucurbitaceae family which includes most melons and gourds. Lettuce is a salad vegetable normally grown for its leaves. Cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower are all members of the Cruciferae family, also known as Cole crops. Cabbage is grown for its leaves and broccoli and cauliflower are grown for their flower heads, which we eat before the flower buds bloom. Celery is the in the Umbelliferae family and the one you are familiar with is a herb grown for its edible leaf stalks.


QUESTION: I planted mustard greens from transplants about 1 month ago and they are thriving. When do you harvest the leaves to cook? Can you pick just some of the leaves and allow the plant to produce more? Also, I want to plant collard greens from transplants. Is it too late in the season to do this? And why are my broccoli plants not doing anything? Will all these need protection with a light frost?

ANSWER: Dr. Sam Cotner, in his book The Vegetable Book, has this to say about harvesting mustard greens: "You can harvest b removing the entire plant or by the cut-and-come-again technique of removing the older, outer leaves as they're needed. Either system works well, but I prefer harvesting the entire plant and utilizing the vacated space for another planting." They should be ready for harvesting the entire plant and utilizing the vacated space for another planting." They should be ready for harvesting within 35 to 50 days of seeding.

Collards, while normally planted 6 to 8 weeks before the first anticipated frost, should do okay planted now from transplants. If a hard freeze is predicted, cover them with an old sheet, Grow-Web or something similar for protection. It may be that your broccoli has just been waiting for the cool weather that has now arrived. Or, they may need some additional high nitrogen fertilizer. If you haven't been fertilizing them, side-dress them with 1 cup of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) per 35 feet of row.

 


Listen to the Garden Show live!
Saturday & Sunday from Noon-2PM
Call (210) 308-8867 or (866) 308-8867
and have your gardening questions answered
- during show hours ONLY -
Milberger's Gardening South Texas
on 930 AM THE ANSWER
Hosts: Dr. Calvin Finch, Dr. Jerry Parsons, and
Milton Glueck, radio personality and host
Last weekend's shows ON PODCAST
Podcast Logo
Milberger's Specials
On Sale This Week | Newsletter Signup
Local Gardening Events
Open 9 to 6 Monday-Saturday & 10 to 5 Sunday
3920 N. Loop 1604 E.  San Antonio, TX 78247
Phone: (210) 497-3760
Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604.
Next to the Valero station.
Email Us | Map & Directions
Copyright © 2017 PLANTanswers.com - All Rights Reserved. PLANTanswers and PLANTanswers.com are trademarks of Jerry Parsons.