Seeds and Nuts - Pecan Nuts (Carya illinoinensis)
Pecan nuts are also called Mississippi nuts.
Pecans are high in oil, the oil being 85 per cent unsaturated, mainly monounsaturated. Unlike most nuts, they contain little dietary fiber.
Pecans are the one natural food eaten by American astronauts in space because they are a concentrated energy source and low in fiber.
Pecan nuts and hickory nuts are the fruit borne by the Carya family of trees. Pecans are a species of the group and are generally considered to be the superior nuts.
The pecan is a 3-4 cm long, elliptical-shaped nut with a smooth, thin, brown shell. The kernel is ridged length-ways, resembling a 'stretched' walnut kernel in appearance, with a sweet, buttery flavor. Like walnuts, the immature nut is encased in a thick green husk that splits open when the nut is ripe.
Origin and History
The pecan is the most important native nut tree of North America; their very name is Indian, and the nut was widely used in tribal cookery. It was discovered by Europeans in 1541 growing abundantly on high ground west of the Mississippi swamps in what is now Arkansas.
Cultivation of the oldest pecan variety, Centennial, was originated by a slave gardener, Antoine, on a plantation in Louisiana, and the famous pecan praline appeared in Louisiana in 1762. Thomas Jefferson planted pecans at Monticello and sent nuts from his trees to George Washington who planted them at Mount Vernon in 1786, where they may still be seen as the oldest trees growing there.
The most important pecan-producing states today form a belt from Georgia in the east to Texas and Oklahoma in the west. A pecan breeding station is maintained by the United States Department of Agriculture in Texas. On the large orchards, operations are entirely mechanized with gigantic tree shakers, nut sweepers and vacuums used for harvesting.
Pecan cultivation was introduced into New South Wales, Australia about 25 years ago with great success. The main plantings in Australia today are in central/northern New South Wales, southern Queensland and Western Australia's south-west. The value of Australia's pecan crop, including value-adding, was $50 million in 2002.
Buying and Storage
Pecan nuts are available all year round although they are harvested in autumn. Buy pecans in the shell if required to store for a long time, otherwise select undamaged, shelled nuts in clear airtight packaging. Store nuts in a clear airtight container in the refrigerator.
Preparation and Use
Shelled pecan nuts may be used whole, chopped or ground. Whole nuts can be eaten as a snack (either raw or roasted and salted) or may be used in cookies, fruit cakes, nut breads or the American favorite, pecan pie. Chopped and ground nuts may be used in cakes, cookies, pastry fillings and confectionery or sprinkled on ice cream.
Pecan nuts are used in commercial cakes, pies and confectionery. The shells are used for paving paths and driveways, garden mulch and chicken litter and are ground for use as soft abrasives in soap and metal cleaners.