What is a Pecan?

A pecan, like the fruit of all other members of the hickory genus, is not truly a nut, but is technically a drupe, a fruit with a single stone or pit, surrounded by a husk. The husks are produced from the exocarp tissue of the flower, while the part known as the nut develops from the endocarp and contains the seed. The husk itself is aeneous, oval to oblong, 2.6–6 cm (1.0–2.4 in) long and 1.5–3 cm (0.59–1.2 in) broad. The outer husk is 3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in) thick, starts out green and turns brown at maturity, at which time it splits off in four sections to release the thin-shelled nut.

gormet-pecan-franklinThe seeds of the pecan are edible, with a rich, buttery flavor. They can be eaten fresh or used in cooking, particularly in sweet desserts, but also in some savory dishes. One of the most common desserts with the pecan as a central ingredient is the pecan pie, a traditional southern U.S. recipe. Pecans are also a major ingredient in praline candy, most often associated with New Orleans.

In addition to the pecan seed, the wood is also used in making furniture and wood flooring, as well as flavoring fuel for smoking meats.

Pecans were one of the most recently domesticated major crops. Although wild pecans were well-known among the colonial Americans as a delicacy, the commercial growing of pecans in the United States did not begin until the 1880s.   Today, the U.S. produces between 80% and 95% of the world’s pecans, with an annual crop of 150–200 thousand tons from more than 10 million trees.  The nut harvest for growers is typically around mid-October. Historically, the leading pecan-producing state in the U.S. has been Georgia, followed by Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma; they are also grown in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Arizona, South Carolina and Hawaii. Outside the United States, pecans are grown in Australia, Brazil, China, Israel, Mexico, Peru and South Africa. They can be grown approximately from USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9, provided summers are also hot and humid.

Pecan trees may live and bear edible seeds for more than 300 years. They are mostly self-incompatible, because most cultivars, being clones derived from wild trees, show incomplete dichogamy. Generally, two or more trees of different cultivars must be present to pollinate each other.