Pecans in Georgia
Georgia leads the nation in pecan production and has done so for three years running. Georgia has been one of the top pecan producing states in the nation since the late 1800s. In 2012, pecans had a farm gate value of more than $249 million. Pecans rank 11th in Georgia’s agricultural commodity rankings.
There are over 500 varieties of pecans, of which only three are common. Georgia produces all three varieties and leads the nation in pecan production, averaging close 100 million pounds each year. That is enough pecans to make 200 million pecan pies!
Pecans in the United States
Every pecan pie uses 1/2 lb to 3/4 lb of pecans. It takes about 310 pecans halves to fill a one-pound bag. So there are about 78 pecans used in every pecan pie!
Pecans are the only tree nut that is truly native to the United States.
Pecans are one of the largest fruit-bearing trees. One irrigated, managed acre of pecan trees will produce about 1,000 pounds of pecans.
Pecan production has steadily increased in the United States since 1925, rising from 2.2 million pounds in 1920 to to more than 400 million pounds in 2007. Before 1920, pecans were “hand-shelled” by consumers—in other words, they removed the shell themselves. With the development of commercial shelling equipment, the pecan industry began to grow. In the early 1920’s, pecan processing was developed, along with equipment used for sizing, separation of faulty meats and shells, cracking, grading of meats, drying and packaging. Improvements in the area of storage life, such as temperature and humidity control, also contributed to the increasing popularity of pecans.
Since 1948 more than 80% of the pecans sold have been “shelled” (the shell has been removed). Some shelling plants operate year-round. Others operate on a seasonal basis, most commonly the fall months.
Large pecan plants can have as many as 14 cracking machines with a capacity of 150,000 pounds a day and 30 million pounds each season. Plants usually have a cold storage facility, some capable of holding several million pounds of shelled and unshelled nuts.
The history of pecans can be traced back to the 16th century. The only major tree nut that grows naturally in North America, the pecan is considered one of the most valuable North American nut species. The name “pecan” is a Native American word of Algonquin origin that was used to describe “all nuts requiring a stone to crack.”
Originating in central and eastern North America and the river valleys of Mexico, pecans were widely used by pre-colonial residents. Pecans were favored because they were accessible to waterways, easier to shell than other North American nut species and of course, for their great taste.
Because wild pecans were readily available, many Native American tribes in the U.S. and Mexico used the wild pecan as a major food source during autumn. It is speculated that pecans were used to produce a fermented intoxicating drink called “Powcohicora” (where the word “hickory” comes from). It also is said that Native Americans first cultivated the pecan tree.
America’s President, food connoisseur and gardener, Thomas Jefferson, was very taken by the flavor of pecans and had trees imported from Louisiana for his Monticello orchards.
In 1995, Georgia pecan wood was selected by the Atlanta Committee to make the handles of the torches for the 1996 Olympic Games. The torches were carried in the 15,000-mile U.S.A. relay and in the lighting of the Olympic flame in Atlanta on July 19, 1996.
The rich, nutty taste of Georgia pecans can enhance the flavor of any dish. But more than just a savory sensation, pecans provide essential nutrients like oleic acid, which can help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. Pecans are also rich in vitamin E, thiamin, magnesium, and copper, and are a good source of fiber.