By WYNELLE CAITLIN
A common sight at this time of year are people scrambling around under trees that have funny little clusters all over their tops. Or people are sitting on the ground searching among the leaves. Or stooping over picking up objects from the ground. Or pushing funny looking sticks around.
It’s pecan-picking-up time in Texas!
I decided to join them this year. I’m one of the stooping-over ones.
We eat a lot of pecans, but I began picking them up because it’s good exercise. And it’s an excuse for staying outside in these cooler but “sunshiney” days, my favorite weather for many outside activities, including hiking or picnicking. Or fishing, if I fished.
We don‘t have a pecan tree at our house, but we have a neighbor whose nuts fall into our yard. And along the streets where we take our daily walk, are many trees dropping their nuts onto the sidewalk or street or city-right-of-way.
I found my nutcracker, which is a gadget with a lever. You place the nut, adjust a screw to make it fit, and push the lever down to crack it. Time consuming and doesn’t work that well.
My brother was using a sheller that cuts the ends and sides off a nut, even a hardshell native. It works much better and is faster. When I decided I would pick up pecans to eat, instead of doing it for fun and exercise, I bought one of the shellers.
And became a pecan afficiendo. I keep the nuts from each tree separate. I’ve shelled some from each tree, for taste and to see if they’re filled out properly.
I can identify them by their size and shape. I sit outside in the sunshine to shell the nuts. Nice round brownish ones are from a tree whose nuts fall onto the church parking lot. Larger round ones fall into the street from Bennett’s tree. Small papershell, easy to shell but not as tasty, from a young tree in a city right-of-way. Just down the street, smaller round pecans with a wonderful flavor. Most in my neighborhood are hardshells, a few papershells.
I visit my favorite trees frequently when the wind has been blowing to shake the nuts loose. Nuts from a tree with smaller but tasty pecans have fallen into the homeowners yard. I plan to ask the homeowner if I can pick them up from his yard.
I wish I had a frailing pole like the ones used when I was growing up at Squaw Mountain. Not far from our house, in a field, seven pecan trees stood in a row. We called them the Seven Sisters. Each year at pecan-picking-up-time, the word went out, and a day was set. Here came aunts and uncles and cousins. And picnic lunches.
And frailing poles and tarps The poles were like heavy fishing poles. Tarps were spread on the ground under a tree, a strong-armed person frailed the tree. After hitting the low-lying limbs, someone would climb up into the tree to hit those in the top so they’d turn loose their nuts. And the pecans would be gathered from the tarps and put into burlap bags. Some went onto the ground outside the tarps and it was the job of us kids to pick those up.
When we kids tired of picking up pecans, we played games in the field, or went to nearby Lynn Creek. But we always came back in time to eat our share of the picnic foods.
My older sister said that one time, when she and an older brother were kids, went down to pick up pecans. They didn’t notice that some cattle had been turned into the field. A bull decided they were invading his territory and began threatening them. They climbed up into one of the trees, out of his reach. But they couldn‘t stay there forever, so when he grazed a short distance from the tree, they climbed down and ran as fast as they could to the fence. And managed to get across before the bull could catch up with them.
The pecan has always been one of my favorite trees, perhaps because the nuts are one of my favorite foods.
In some parts of the country, it’s pronounced “pee-con” but we say “pa-con.” However it’s said, the word pecan comes from an Indian word meaning, “a nut requiring a stone to crack.”
The state tree of Texas, they live and produce for 300 or more years. They’re large and tall, some reaching 100 or more feet with a circumference up to 10 feet.
The largest pecan tree recorded is near Weatherford. Ninety feet tall, it take four or five people with long arms to encircle the trunk.
Another large pecan tree is at Oran, across the creek from where Charles Goodnight’s mother and stepfather lived.
A tree of the United States and the south , the state of Georgia has the most trees, Texas next. Yearly, this country produces 80 to 95 % of the world’s pecans, 150 to 200 thousand tons from more than ten million trees.
Popular in this country since its beginning days, Thomas Jefferson planted pecans at his home, Monticello. He gave trees to George Washington who planted them at his Mount Vernon home.
Texas governor James Hogg in the early 1900s, asked that a pecan tree be planted at his grave instead of placing the traditional headstone. And that the nuts be distributed throughout the state to make it a Land of Trees. His wish was fulfilled.
Squirrels are also very fond of pecans..