The Pecan tree is the iconic tree of the Texas landscape. Its native range begins at the eastern state border and moves westward until reaching areas where the average yearly rainfall drops below 32 inches. There, it traces the banks and flood plains of rivers and creeks into the west, eventually covering two-thirds of Texas.
It was along the banks of the Clear Fork of the Brazos that I first discovered the significance of Pecan trees. On a crisp, fall Sunday afternoon, in the late 50′s, I joined my grandparents and the people of a small Jones county town, at their city park, shuffling through fallen pecan leaves picking up the small nuts of the native trees that lined the river and formed a forest of branches on that first terrace above the river bank. While this was my first exposure to this autumnal ritual, it began near fifty years prior; peaking during the Great Depression years when nothing went to waste. Most of the nuts were small, less than one-half the size of pecans I purchase at today’s farmer’s markets. Whole families turned out to reap nature’s bounty–which had been scarce the previous year. Most of the pickers cached their prize into burlap bags. I was furnished a worn cotton pillowcase, which was most appropriate for my size and attention span.
As the afternoon sun dropped below the clouds on the western horizon, families gathered and loaded their bags into pickup beds or in the car trunks, or “turtlebacks” as they were referred to at the time. Over the next few weeks, most of the nuts were shelled, some in halves, but most in pieces. They later appeared in Thanksgiving and Christmas pies and pastries. A select few, those with thin shells and of significant size, were planted in coffee cans in hopes of producing a spring seedling that could be planted in the yard. Maybe, in the years to come, it would produce a crop of like nuts.
The ritual of pecan gathering was not unique to this west Texas, mostly rural community. It was commonplace to all parts of Texas fortunate to be graced by the shade of native pecan trees. For the full article from Arborilogical ServicesInc., Please click here.