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Pecans: A Growing Tradition by Danny Fox
Pecan is the only tree nut that is native to North America. It is considered the most valuable nut species in the area. "Pecan" is a Native American word that means "all nuts requiring a stone to crack." During the pre-colonial time, pecans were more favored for three reasons. One is that they are easier to shell than other North American nuts. Another is that most pecan nut trees were more accessible to waterways. And the third reason is, of course, they taste better than other nuts.
Native Americans used roasted pecans as part of rituals prior to hunting. The Indians realized that these nuts small enough to carry in a snack bag and did not get rotten fast. Milk was made from pecan nuts by the Native Americans. This was done by pounding the nuts with a mortar and pestle and adding water. The Natives knew the positive effects of pecans as they fed both their babies and their elders with milk made from these nuts. Colonizers learned about pecans from the natives and adopted the use of pecans. European colonists roasted pecans and used these nuts in their own recipes and formulas.
The first pecan cultivations date back to more than three hundred years ago. Orchards rose up in New Orleans but the market had a growing demand for wild pecans. This was preferred by most people at that time because of the superior quality of the nuts. Thin shelled pecans that were larger than most variants were in the greatest demand. Roasted pecans became very popular that it is known that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both planted pecans during their time. It was probably here that the tradition of having roasted pecans or pecan pies on the table during Thanksgiving was started. Abner Landrum, a native of South Carolina was credited to have discovered a pecan budding technique. But this technique was lost. After around half a century, an African American slave gardener from Louisiana, successfully grafted a superior wild stock to a cultivated seedling pecan plant. His product was dubbed "Centennial" because he was given the Best Pecan Exhibited award at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. After pecans were grafted, orchards were filled with superior genotypes of the pecan tree. Then, the business of pecan candy making started. Pecan candies have for their birthplace, San Antonio, Texas. The pioneer of this trade was Gustav Duerler. Because the orchards could not meet his demand, he began trading with Native Americans. They supplied him with enough pecans for roasted pecans and other pecan sweets. Gustav also developed a way of shelling pecans by using a railroad spike to crack the nuts and a sack needle to separate the shell and the meat.
Since then, there has been a high demand for roasted pecans, pecan pies and candies as snack food or as part of Thanksgiving celebrations. All around the American South, pecan has become part of a growing tradition that started centuries ago. From the simple roasted pecan to the beloved pecan pies, each pecan sweet has its own history to tell.
For the best and healthiest treats, get roasted pecans and other pecan sweets from Tanner's Pecans and Candies and be part of that great American tradition.
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