A Passion for Pecans

Until recently, I did not fully realize just how connected I have been with pecans over the course of my lifetime.  My first memory of pecans came when I was a young girl, slowly nibbling my Grandma Knuth’s (Kuh NOOTH) pecan sticky rolls in order to savor their gooey wonderfulness for as long as I could. She did not make them often because she claimed pecans were too expensive to bake with or liberally include in recipes. I guess pecans were fairly expensive back in the 1960’s and 1970’s  – and I know they still are today.

My next memory of pecans, was more of a hands-on experience, even though I was still living in Nebraska at the time where the climate is much too cold and pecan trees are scarce if they grow there at all. My mother-in-law at the time, had a sister who lived in Tulsa Oklahoma and had a pecan tree in her front yard. She hated for the pecans to go to waste, so she picked them up and brought large, brown-paper grocery bags full of pecans to her family in Nebraska each winter. Every time I visited my in-laws, my mom-in-law, Opal, and I would sit at the kitchen table for hours, shelling pecans, visiting about life, and having a lot of good laughs. Of course, we also ate a few of the pecans while we were cracking and shelling – “Just to be sure they were still good”, she would say. With some of the fruits of our labor, Opal made some kind of peanut butter pecan cookies that were out of this world!  Amazingly, she completely made the recipe up, reinventing it every time as she dumped ingredients together. As a result, each batch never quite tasted the same, but those cookies were always fabulous and just loaded with pecans!

On a good pecan production year, pecans lay scattered under the pecan trees.
On a good pecan production year, pecans lay scattered under the pecan trees.
Autumn in the Pecan Orchard is beautiful. Here, Virginia Creeper adds a splash of color in the Pecan Orchard.
Autumn in the Pecan Orchard is beautiful. Here, Virginia Creeper adds a splash of color to one of the old trees.
The pecan orchard from the road looking back towards our property during 2015 Washita River flood.
The pecan orchard from the road looking back towards the Ten-Acre Ranch during the 2015 Washita River flood.

Years later, I divorced and moved to Oklahoma. The first year I lived here, there was a bumper crop of pecans, and a co-worker down the street who had a backyard full of them, was elated that I wanted to pick them up when she offered. These folks hated having “the trashy pecans” all over their yard, so I would be doing them a favor by gathering them! While harvesting them, I learned these were Paper Shell pecans, which have a thinner shell than the Native pecans and are much easier to crack open and clean. With that knowledge, I was sacking up bags of pecans with such exuberance that I overloaded myself with pecans that I would have to shell throughout the winter months. Doing this tedious work all by myself, literally tore my fingers to shreds. So after that first year’s experience, I took my bags of pecans to a nut facility about an hour away and had them “cracked and blown” so that all I had to do was pick the nut meat out of the processed nuts and discard shell debris. Let me tell you, this new shelling method was well worth the cost! During those years when I was able to collect the paper shell pecans, it was common for me to bring my family in Nebraska fifty pounds or more of cleaned pecans. Grandma Knuth couldn’t believe how “fresh and crisp” those pecans were, and she was especially thrilled that they were in “halves and not those dried-out, little pieces” she was used to buying in the grocery store.

The gate from Ten-Acre Ranch to the pecan orchard was kept closed during spring rains in 2015. I'm afraid the electric buggy would have gotten stuck, and the water was too high to venture far in my rubber boots!
The gate from Ten-Acre Ranch to the pecan orchard was kept closed during spring rains in 2015. I was afraid the electric buggy would have become stuck, and the water was too high to venture far in my rubber boots!
Early summer is a lovely time to walk the Pecan Orchard. Everything is coming to life in the woodlands.
Early summer is a lovely time to walk the Pecan Orchard. In this photo, everything is coming to life in the woodlands.
Winter fog in the pecan orchard casts a lonesome view of cattle grazing about.
Winter fog in the pecan orchard casts a lonesome view of a couple of cattle grazing about.

When FD and I married and eventually moved to Ten-Acre Ranch, I no longer had to ask permission of neighbors and friends to pick pecans from their yards, as we had several pecan trees here on the property to gather nuts from. We also gained permission to pick from the pecan orchard next door. After living here a few years, however, I found I had less time to pick pecans except for a few bags to keep on hand for squirrel rehabilitation. Squirrels absolutely LOVE pecans! And after freeing orphaned fawn Daisy to the wild, instead of taking time to gather pecans, I found myself just roaming the pecan orchard and adjoining river bottom, either walking along with her, following her from a slight distance, or searching for her. Doing this, I discovered a different kind of tranquility and beauty under the canopy of shade provided by the stately, old pecan trees. Opportunities for photographing wildlife were numerous among the magnificent pecans. Mostly though, I understood Daisy deer’s desire to venture from home to the pecan orchard and the old river channel. This new territory presented a vast area with a diverse array of plants and browse that deer love. Seeing this, I could not blame her for exploring beyond our limited property boundaries, as I often found myself needing a quiet space, away from the noise and confines of living on the outskirts of town.

I am able to photograph all sorts of wildlife in the Pecan Orchard. Often in the spring and autumn we hear the calls of turkeys in the pecan orchard from our house.
I am able to photograph all sorts of wildlife in the Pecan Orchard. Often in the spring and autumn, we can hear the calls of turkeys in the pecan orchard from the back porch of our home.
Scarlet still herds up with Daisy and her little buck. Scarlet was pregnant this year but apparently lost her fawns and she has traveled alone with Daisy this summer.
Scarlet doe still herds up with Daisy and her little buck. Scarlet was pregnant this year, but apparently lost her fawns and was captured in this photo traveling alone with Daisy and her buck just a few days ago.
Daisy and her buck set out to the pecan orchard for the evening. The pecan orchard offers lots of edibles and browse for the deer.
Daisy and her buck set out to the pecan orchard for the evening. The pecan orchard offers lots of edibles and browse for the deer.
Daisy and her little buck setting off into the sunset in the pecan orchard.
Daisy and her little buck setting off into the sunset in the pecan orchard.

So, I found it quite fitting that, when FD and I ventured out in the electric buggy yesterday afternoon, we found Daisy deer bedded down in the willow patch, just a short distance from our gate in a corner of the pecan orchard. Likely, she was keeping watch over her little buck resting somewhere nearby, while chewing her cud and doing a little resting herself. Seeing our beautiful girl in such a tranquil setting, FD and I looked at each other with big smiles on our faces. I would say we were more than a little bit giddy and elated. Daisy was the sign we had not expected to see, although there had been signs all along the way for the past month or two. Everything had fallen into place without a hitch. And just an hour before, the deal had been sealed. Daisy and her babies, and Emma and Ronnie, and future wildlife would be more protected in this area now. FD stepped gently on the buggy’s accelerator as we drove away from Daisy at a very slow pace, not wanting to disturb her or her little boy from their resting spots. We traveled quietly on west along the fence line, still smiling at each other and gazing up at the huge pecan trees all around us, all the while enjoying our first moments as the new owners of the pecan orchard.

Daisy Bedded Down_7065
Daisy welcomes us to the pecan orchard from her resting spot in the corner willow patch.

© 2016 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


31 thoughts on “A Passion for Pecans

  1. Oh, you’ve bought the pecan orchard! Good for you. I think I have mentioned to you before that I grew up with an enormous pecan tree in our back yard. Some of my earliest memories are of my Mom sitting in the evenings cracking and picking pecans. She used pecans in lots of things but my two favourites are Pecan Pie and Pecan Sandies, a cookie she made usually only at Christmas. Now you’ve made me hungry for pecans! They are grown here in Australia, but often when they get to us here in the hotter climate, they are rancid. So I have to return them to the store and hope that the next shipment is good. Lovely photos, as always. Daisy is so beautiful. xx

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    1. Thank you, Ardys… Daisy is my favorite subject to photograph. The purchase of the pecan orchard was meant to be, and it literally landed in our laps. The previous owner approached FD out of the blue one day, and before we knew it, we were making arrangements to buy it. FD and I are so happy. There are classes we will be taking through the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation (http://www.noble.org/) that will help us learn about deer management and pecan production, along with a host of other educational subjects on farming and agriculture. We did not purchase this land to make money. Mostly it is for us to continue our work with wildlife – an expansion of the property to support that endeavor. I will enjoy roaming it with my camera too!!

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  2. I feel “giddy” just picturing you two smiling at each other in the buggy 😉 . I am so happy for you both, I do believe acquiring the pecan orchard was meant to be!! I also had to smile when thinking of Grandma Knuth baking in her kitchen; I can almost smell the sweet rolls she used to bake. And Opal was such a sweetheart of a lady, I imagine it was more of a “pecan shelling frolic” than work, lol! Congrats on purchasing the pecan orchard!!!

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    1. Oh Sister, you are so right!! How the purchase came about couldn’t have been anything else but “meant to be”!! FD and I have been taking the buggy out almost every evening, just looking things over, and every single time we’ve found Daisy and her buck there. I think of Grandma Knuth and Opal often now. In their younger days they would have been found on hands and knees picking up those pecans, squirreling them away for winter use!! I am pretty sure your Emily has that same squirrel instinct!! Ha ha!! Maybe the pecan orchard will bring our family here during harvest season… for a pecan PICKING frolic!! 😀

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  3. Your grandma sounds likes such a lovely lady with her baking skills. I really enjoyed reading about your pecan experiences. And to top it off- I am so happy that now you and FD own the orchard. How lucky can you be?

    I have a tree but I never get anything because the squirrels begin eating when the nuts are still green. Also, the tree should be sprayed since it always has the “sticky shell” disease. I try to buy mine at the feed store where they are much cheaper and then shell some for baking- that is if I bake. Maybe I can this winter if things go ok. 🙂

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    1. Grandma was an excellent baker, and though she shared recipes if she was asked to, our baking never quite turned out as good as hers. I think Grandma had secrets to her baking that she did not share with the rest of us. She made some sandwich buns that were out of this world, but none of us has replicated the delicate, buttery taste of hers.

      FD and I are going to attend a Pecan 101 Workshop next month. We also want to contact a couple of harvesters in the area to find out how all of that works. We are not in this to make money… we simply wanted to do it for the wildlife, and to have more acres bordering our existing land. It truly was meant to be and we’re super stoked!! 🙂

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  4. Oh, I’m so glad. The Ten Acre Plus Sanctuary!
    We had a black walnut tree on our farm, and I HATED cleaning those things. So much work for such a teeny piece of nutmeat.

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    1. Yes, Sandy it’s an additional 52.5 acres of sanctuary! And just in case you feel like going down memory lane we even have some walnut trees on the property! You know walnuts must be difficult to process because I gathered some a few years back and could not find a nut place that would process them. Apparently removing the husk is a real problem.

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    2. I’m with you Sandy! Black walnuts are horrible! The English walnuts are much easier to get out the nutmeats, but of course they are still a curse on the lawn. 😉

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  5. How exciting. Orchards are such treasures. Any forest is a wonder for the shade and cretures, but a orchard is grove that produces food, too. Double the marvel. You used to see old homesteads built among or in front of pecan orchards – whether it was for ease of gathering or to protect the crop I never knew, but it is sad to see people move in and bulldoze them for grassy lawns and subdivisions.
    Paper shells are so treasured. As far as I can remember, every Christmas dad would get out a very old square wooden “bowl” he had a s a child with holes in the raised center for a couple of “silver” picks, and a pecan cracker. It would be filled with pecans (paper shells if lucky) all Decemeber and we would crack them open with the shells falling back into the bowl. Pecans are Christmas.
    Cheers for Littlesundog of the Grove!

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    1. Oh, what wonderful memories! Other than Grandma’s pecan rolls, and Opal’s cookies, the only other memory of pecans was at Christmas when after the parochial school performance on Christmas Eve, us kids were each given a bag of fruit and nuts for a gift. I remember pecans and Brazil nuts were my favorites.

      There are 142 trees in the immediate orchard (more in other areas of the property and also walnut and oak trees) and they are varied in type of pecan. The previous owner had an older gentleman in the area do a walk through some years ago who could identify the tree types. We are hoping this man is still alive and well, and may be able to educate us on what types of pecan trees we have. We will also be talking to a couple of area pecan harvesters. There will be much to learn. But aside from all of that, we did not purchase the land to make money. It is for Daisy… and the wildlife it supports. And for our enjoyment. So far, we’re just doing a little cleanup (trash that blows in from a neighborhood to the south, and from a busy road on the north end) and scoping out the trees. We’re excited too that there are walnuts and oaks. Deer love acorns ya know!! 😀

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  6. While it makes complete sense, I had no idea what all was involved in pecan harvesting. What a venture! I enjoyed the post and your comment about talking with the local pecan experts about the types of trees you have.
    Congrats on the new addition!

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    1. Thanks Kim! For many years I have enjoyed roaming the orchard, following Daisy around. The previous owners were so kind to allow me that privilege. It’s a wonderful feeling to own it, and we will now be learning the ropes of being pecan producers, and taking steps to assure it will always be a sanctuary for wildlife. We’re very stoked about it all!! 🙂

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  7. What a beautiful story, Lori. I love how the simple pecan linked aspects of your life and here you are now, the proud owners of a pecan orchard! What a wonderful result and how excited you must be. I loved seeing Daisy and her little buck in the orchard. It seems that everything has fallen into place. You didn’t know all those years ago that life would turn out in such a way, did you? I wish you much peace and happiness. You deserve it, dear Lori. 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Beth! There are so many wonderful pecan recipes. I’ll have to give your’s a whirl sometime… but this year was not a production year so mine will be store bought too! It’s crazy to have a pecan orchard and have to buy pecans! 😦

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