This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for March 14, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
My friend from Simonton told me this week his pecan tree was budding out, but, after a quick look in our backyard, I must report that neither our native Texas pecan nor our hybrid is showing any sign of leafing out. Of course our fig tree is already covered with leaves in a reckless early Spring abandonment of its senses. As I told my friend, my mother always said that we could still have a freeze before Easter until the pecan trees bud out, that the pecan was the smartest of the trees and bushes, having a lot more sense than fig trees and peach trees. So what’s the problem here? Do I have smarter pecan trees than he does?
The pecan tree is not only our State tree, but also it is impossible to grow in many parts of the world. Native to North America, pecan trees grow naturally in northern Mexico and the southern United States. There are no pecan trees in the United Kingdom nor in many other countries. You can plant them there, but they won’t grow well, and often not at all; they grow best in warm zones.
“Pecan” is an Algonquin native American word, a term like “squash” that we borrowed from the Amerindians. Only hazelnuts, chestnuts, and walnuts grow in the United Kingdom, and I have never eaten a chestnut in my lifetime; likewise, there are folks in England who have never eaten a pecan. That’s not a big deal, except if a Brit would ever eat a luscious piece of Texas pecan pie, he would immediately move to the country that grows pecans!
We Texans, however, can’t go so far as to claim the pecan as our own, because of all the native pecan States, Georgia produces the most, with Texas coming in second. But we produce about 60 million pounds of pecans a year, worthy of some bragging. There are only 13 other States that grow pecans, — Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.
There is no German word for “pecan,” so when many of our German ancestors came to Texas from Germany in the 1800’s, they called this strange fruit of the tree, a “Nuss,” German word for “nut.” I don’t think the word “Nuss” lasted very long, because it is pronounced just like the Texas word “noose,” and it makes a big difference as to which one is hanging from a tree. I might also add a strange fact I just discovered: the pecan is not truly a nut, but a drupe, and a member of the hickory genus. You’ll have to get a horticulturist to explain what a “drupe” is, because I don’t have a clue!
My maternal grandmother inherited a pecan grove somewhere between Lincoln and Lexington, Texas, from her mother; and back in the good old days, we would spend one or two days harvesting pecans in the late Fall. I have written about our annual pecan harvest about four or five times during the 25-plus years I’ve written this column for the Tribune (and later, the Express), so I don’t think any of my readers would care to hear yet another pecan-harvest story. Not only did Grandma’s land produce an abundance of pecan trees and pecans, but also copperheads, so some of my stories were a little scary.
My parents had two native pecan trees when they lived in Giddings, and a half dozen in Dime Box, not to mention the trees the rest of my family had, more than enough for pies, pralines, and all the snacks you could want; consequently, my grandparents would sell all the “Nusse” harvested from the pecan grove. By the time my wife and I moved to East Bernard, my grandparents had sold the land with the pecan grove, so I had no access to it to transplant any of those natives in East Bernard. I did bring a small 24” native pecan tree in a bucket here from Giddings, before my parents sold that place, and today that Texas native stands proud and way taller than the house, and keeps our squirrel population so fat they can hardly walk, much less run!
My native pecan has never budded out before a freeze since 1975 when we planted it, so I think it’s safe to say the squirrels will have plenty to eat again this year. They’re lucky I have such smart trees!
Ray Spitzenberger, a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor, is a published poet and author of a book, It Must Be the Noodles.