Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Goin’ nuts in Texas

I’m going totally nuts in Texas … and I’m not alone.

It has nothing to do with the company I’m keeping, though there are those who would question the general level of sanity among us here in the Lone Star State. No … in this case, it’s all about the nuts themselves … and not just any old nut, either.

Carya illinoinensis – more commonly known as the pecan – is a member of the Juglandaceae family, a worldwide gathering that includes several genera and many, MANY species. Until the 16th century, collection and consumption was a confined to native Americans in Mexico and southern portions of what would someday be the United States. Spanish explorers in these areas brought appreciation for the pecan back to Europe with them.

Back on this side of the pond, the passing of time and major changes in society did nothing to alter the pecan’s attraction. Thomas Jefferson grew trees of the Illinois nuts at Monticello, as did George Washington at Mount Vernon … well, at least they oversaw the growing of said trees on their plantations.

In 1919, the Texas Legislature officially designated Carya illinoinensis as the State Tree of Texas, and Native Pecan as State Nut. The town of San Saba, Texas proclaims itself to be “The Pecan Capital of the World” … and they have good cause for said claim – look it up!

Depending upon where you are, pecan nuts start dropping from the trees in mid-to-late fall. I’m one of many, MANY people who have been busy harvesting this year’s crop. On evenings that I’m at home, once dinner and dishes are done, I have a shelling station set-up in my living room, and I’m watching TV while working. I sort the shelled results by ‘whole halves’ or ‘pieces.’ Some results will go in the freezer for use in the months ahead, while the rest goes on the shelf for use now … pralines, pecan brittle, spicy party mix, and pecan pie.

A sad story I once heard at the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, involved pecan pies …

It was November, 1963, and the Johnson Ranch was abuzz with activity. President John Kennedy was touring Texas. Following stops in San Antonio, Houston, Fort Worth, Dallas and Austin, Kennedy and his wife were going to visit the Johnson Ranch for a relaxing weekend as guests of Vice President Lyndon Johnson and his wife.

That included the baking of pecan pies for dessert that weekend - a special recipe created by Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson, herself. Work in the kitchen and everywhere else halted at mid-day when they received news that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, followed shortly after with news that he had died, and later that Johnson had been sworn-in as President.

In the midst of all that, I was told, an employee reached up and stopped the clock in the kitchen where they had all heard the news of Kennedy’s murder … and you can still see that clock in the kitchen, set at that time, when you tour the park.

In so many ways – most of them wonderful, and at least one of them terrible – the pecan is a part of the Lone Star State, its history, its culture and its image …. and the reason I go nuts in Texas, year after year.


Here are links to some of my favorite pecan recipes …

PECAN BRITTLE: https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/pecan-brittle

SPICY PECANS: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/46029/hot-and-spicy-pecans/

PECAN PIE: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1766-bourbon-pecan-pie

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