This column is a ‘tribute to a nut’

Published 8:29 pm Tuesday, November 15, 2011

With a title like “Tribute to a Nut” you are probably thinking that this will be an autobiographical column, but it’s not. It’s a tribute to the most popular nut, this side of the peanut, of the Fall season, the pecan.

First order of business is to get the pronunciation out of the way. That’s not as easy as it might seem for a five-letter word with only two syllables. One would think that the accent is on one syllable or the other and that is right. However, where I come from people are liable to give both syllables the accent.

Is it pea-can or pea-kahn? And is the accent on the first syllable or the last? Take your pick, but I prefer to say pea-can with the accent on first syllable. In this case, freedom reigns and there is no right or wrong.

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Here is a little more information, maybe even more than you want. First of all, the pecan is a member of the hickory family of nuts or trees. As that is its genus, it’s not really a nut. I might really be a nut, but the pecan is technically a drupe, but you probably already knew that. Right?

By the way, I don’t always carry around in my “noggin” all this much information. It would explode, so I just looked this up for you today. You know, inquiring minds want to know.

Pecans are native to the Americas, mainly North America, and our great state of Georgia has been the leading cultivator and gatherer of the nut. According to the National Pecan Shellers Association website, Albany, Ga., is the pecan capital of the United States, but the state tree of Texas and, not Georgia, is the pecan.

There are more than one thousand varieties of the pecan and many are named for Native American tribes because the pecan was a main source of food for them in the northeastern portion of North America. Coincidentally, one of my friends at my Mitchell County church gave me a bag of pecans a few weeks ago and they were named Pawnees.

Well, so much for information about the pecan. Let’s get down to the brass tacks. That would be whether or not I have a tree with some pecans on it and what is the price if I were to pick them up? Plus, who’s going to make a pecan pie or divinity or pralines or some other kind of edible goodie with pecans in it?

I do not have a pecan tree in my yard, but I did when I was growing up. In addition to those in the yard itself, there were other trees around the barns and along the fence rows. We didn’t do anything to enhance the quality of the fruit. In other words we didn’t spray the trees for the scab or pests that might diminish the yield.

We didn’t fertilize the ground around the trees and the only water they received was from the Good Lord. Hence, some years were good and some years were not. Those good years were exciting, though, when the ground would be covered with lots of nuts and we’d crawl around on knees, until they were sore, trying to fill up a croker sack with pecans.

First, we’d fill up our five-gallon buckets and, then, transfer the nuts to the croker sack. Then, when the sack was full, we would pick it up and try to guess its weight. Quick multiplying would occur in our minds as we imagined a price per pound that was usually too high. The goal was money and picking up pecans was the only way to earn money around the holidays.

Of course, we would never get the price per pound that we wanted. It seemed the law of agricultural commodities was always at work. That law says that when the pecans are plentiful, the price is low and vice versa. We were not going to get rich picking up pecans, but at least, we made a little.

That’s the money part of pecans back then, but today, pecans are big business. I remember in those youthful days getting less than 50 cents a pound and maybe even something like a dime a pound. I hear this year, though, that pecans might be bringing as much as $3 a pound. If I had picked up a croker sack of pecans (over a hundred pounds) when I was a boy and gotten that much per pound, I probably would have bought a car!

I know someone is out there reading and asking, when are you going to mention pecan pies again? It might just be the most popular of all the many delicious Southern desserts and the first thing we think of when we think of pecans.

As we move into a holiday season anew, the season where food and fellowship are at their zeniths, how many of our bountiful tables will include a pecan pie? Ours will and yours, too, probably. This year might be a good one to pick up those around your own trees. Prices could be up to $11 dollars per pound in the stores, according to an article in CNN Money, sent to me by John Krueger of the National Pecan Shellers Association.

I don’t know how many pecan pies will be made by my mother and father, but it is one of their favorite Christmas gifts. The family recipe has been handed down over the generations and it has definitely kept the Karo syrup company in business. When the first bite is taken, the words that follow usually are something on the order of, “Ummmh, just like Big Mama’s!”

I’ll close with a confession. I don’t eat pecan pie. That’s right. I don’t eat pecan pie and you can check my birth certificate. I was born in Georgia. So, as, you finish this column, you might re-read the title, “Tribute to a Nut.” I said it was not about me, but given my confession, it could be!