Pecan HistoryNative to North America, the pecan is a member of the hickory family and closely related to the walnut. Its original botanical name was Hicoria pecan but was changed to Carya illinoinensis in the late seventeenth century. Fur traders brought the pecan to the Atlantic coast from Illinois, calling them Illinois nuts, hence the latin classification of illinoinensis.
The English term pecan comes from the Algonquin Indian word paccan or pakan, meaning a nut so hard it had to be cracked with a stone. The Algonquins also referred to walnuts and hickory nuts as paccans.
The term pecans first appeared in print in 1773. George Washington planted pecan trees at Mount Vernon, a gift from Thomas Jefferson who is credited with their initial popularity in the South.
In 1846, a black slave gardener known only as Antoine, developed the Centennial variety of pecan via grafting on Louisiana's Oak Alley plantation. Pecans were not exploited commercially until the middle of the nineteenth century. Europeans had never even seen a pecan until the sixteenth century.
Pecan trees can grow to over 100 feet tall and live to be over a thousand years old. Pecan trees are native to the Mississippi River basin, and do well as far north as Illinois and Indiana and southward to Mexico. Out of over one thousand varieties, one has even adapted to grow in the colder climates of Canada.
Australia began harvesting productive pecan crops in 1960, and Israel's production was boosted in the 1970s. It takes ten years for a pecan tree to produce a profitable crop. One tree alone can yield up to four hundred pounds of nuts in a good year.
In the United States, pecans are second in popularity only to peanuts (which are not even true nuts). The United States produces about eighty percent of the world's pecans.
The pecan is the state tree of Texas, where it is widely cultivated.
More about Pecans: Pecan Selection and Storage
Pecan Equivalents, Measures, Substitutions, and Cooking Tips
Pecan Harvesting, Sizes, and Grades
Pecan Legend and Lore
Pecans and Health
Pecans Photo © 2006 Peggy Trowbridge, licensed to About.com, Inc.
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