A Nutty Endeavor: Growing & Harvesting Pecans
My husband and I, who were born and raised in North Dakota and Minnesota respectively, recently relocated to Shreveport, Louisiana for his medical residency. In preparing our move down south, I eagerly began researching the different types of vegetables and flowers that I’d now be able to grow in this climate zone—a far cry from Minot, ND or Belle Plaine, MN. Shreveport is located in Zone 8 and has a growing season of 236 growing days—exactly 100 more fertile growing days compared to the 136-ish days we have up north. To our good fortune, the house we purchased had a mature pecan tree in our backyard. My husband loves to bake and does so frequently, so having our own pecan tree was a dream come true.
A Healthy Treat
Shreveport is home to the only university research facility dedicated to the pecan, and the LSU Agriculture Center continues to provide a wealth of knowledge for hobby growers on successfully raising and harvesting this decadent tree nut. A pecan tree takes 7-10 years to reach maturity, when it reaches peak production of nuts. They often live up to 100 years or more. We also learned that pecans have the highest concentration of antioxidants of all tree nuts, as well as over 19 vitamins and minerals. They not only taste great but are good for us too!
Pecan Harvesting Basics
An immature pecan (left) is bright green in color, and turns dark brown as it grows and becomes ready for harvest (right). The husk cracks when the pecan is ready to be harvested and dried. Our pecans fell from the tree naturally, so ‘harvesting’ was relatively easy!
We harvested the pecans during the first weekend of November after a massive thunderstorm passed through Shreveport, so the pecans were a little moist. Once the husks were removed, we laid them out on baking sheets (Nordic Ware Baker’s Half Sheets, to be exact!) so they could dry out. Sidenote: Nordic Ware Prep & Serve bowls made great harvest buckets as we collected fallen pecans from our tree! We had to fight with our neighborhood squirrels to lay claim to the pecans before they did. At one point, they were actually knocking down nuts from the tree to try to scare us away!
Here is a pecan cracked right after harvest. Notice how plump the meat of the nut is—it fills out the entire shell. The pecan must dry long enough to reach a moisture level of just six percent to store well and not go rancid. We were curious about the taste of the nut prior to putting it through the drying process, so we did a little taste test. It proved to be chewy and slightly rubbery in texture with a mild flavor.
The drying process, which takes place indoors, was completed the last week of November. Shown here is a pecan after 3-4 weeks of drying to achieve the optimal moisture content. The pecan shell has gotten smaller, and the pecan nut inside has shrunk. It tastes rich in flavor, and is crunchy, with a heavy nutty scent.
One way we gauged our progress during the pecan harvest was Instagram, believe it or not! Using the hashtag #pecanharvest, we were able to see where commercial and hobby pecan growers were in the harvest season and how our pecans compared to other pecans that were harvested.
As we successfully finish our first harvest, we are preparing the pecans for Christmas gifts for our family and friends in Minnesota and North Dakota. And, let’s be honest—we plan to use some of them ourselves too! One of the perks to living in the south is having friends with great southern-style family recipes that are passed down from one generation to the next. In my short time in the south, I’ve become acquainted with a new friend whose family owns a pecan orchard. Abby was kind enough to share several of her family’s pecan recipes with me. Since Thanksgiving and pecan pie are now behind us and the focus is on Christmas baking, I am sharing a treasured family pecan cookie recipe from Abby’s grandmother, Dana Scallan.
We’re already looking forward to next year’s harvest!
By guest blogger: Jennifer Gokey
Grandma’s Pecan Refrigerator Cookies
The nutty, rich flavor of pecans really shines in this recipe and showcases this southern ingredient in its prime!
Yield: About 4 dozen
- 2 Cups Brown Sugar (Light or Dark or Mixture of Both)
- 1 ½ Cups Butter, Melted
- 2 Eggs
- 1 Tsp Vanilla
- 3 ½ Cups Flour
- 1 Tsp Salt
- 1 Tsp Baking Powder
- 1 Tsp Baking Soda
- 1 Cup Pecans, Finely Chopped
- Wax Paper and Parchment Paper
- Mix together the brown sugar, butter, eggs, and vanilla.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda and then add to the brown sugar mixture.
- Add the pecans to the dough and mix well.
- Tear off 4 sheets of wax paper about 18” long each. Divide the dough into 4 piles and put on wax paper sheets. Shape the cookie dough into 4 long rolls, flattening the tops as you shape. Bring the long edges of the wax paper together on top of the dough roll and fold to seal the dough. Seal the ends of the cookie dough by twisting the wax paper. Place the 4 rolls on a cookie sheet and freeze overnight.
- The next day, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Slice the rolled dough about 1/8” thick and place the slices on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the cookies are light golden brown in color. Remove and place on racks to cool. You may keep the dough in the freezer and bake the cookies as you need them.
Explore more pecan recipes from Nordic Ware’s website:
- Traditional Pecan Pie
- Brown Butter Pecan Cake
- 70th Anniversary Cinnamon Swirl and Toasted Pecan Bundt
- Lemon Pecan Blueberry Muffins
- Pecan Brownies