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Pecans Made Holiday Memories

Pecans have been a part of the holidays as long as I can remember. At meals at least one pie was always on the desert table, with the pecans laid out in perfect circle patterns. 

Lunch was at my great-aunts’, who lived in the house they were born in. My dad is one of five siblings so there was always a crowd at the table. After lunch we’d head out to the front yard. Their house sat back off the road, with a long gravel driveway lined with pecan trees. 

I can remember standing under those trees thinking how small I felt next to them. While pecan trees grow between 70 and 100 feet tall, some can reach 150 feet in height. I have no idea who planted those trees, because I don’t think Mother Nature planted them in a perfect row along the drive. I don’t know how old they were. 

I do know those trees were a huge part of our holidays. I have many memories from that yard. We would bring out the rakes and spend the afternoon making huge piles of leaves the trees had dropped. My cousins and I, and maybe even our parents, loved jumping in the piles and usually burned off our lunch and all the deserts, including the pecan pie we ate.

While raking we all picked up pecans that had fallen from the trees. Some years we gathered a lot and other years our buckets weren’t as full. I didn’t know then that pecans need at least 200 chill hours, when temperatures are between 32°F. and 45°F. during their dormant period. So, in warm winters there were fewer pecans. 

As I child I didn’t realize there were pecan farms, with orchards of trees. North Carolina is one of the top 10 states in pecan production. A pecan shuck grows approximately 200 days before it opens and drops the nut. 

Most North Carolina pecans are harvested in November. Smaller farms with a few trees pick the pecans by hand. Larger orchards have a machine that shakes the tree and picks up the pecans. We could have used a machine like that when I was a kid!

My favorite recipe with pecans is a chocolate cake with pecans in the chocolate icing. The recipe is an old family recipe, and somehow it tastes even better when I’ve picked up the pecans myself.

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