Bayou-Diversity (16 December 2018) To me, the word “PEE-can” is synonymous with the chamber pots of days past. However, a national survey conducted in 2003 finds that “PEE-can” over “pa-KAWN” is the overwhelming choice among Americans. I’ll not conform to the majority.
The name “pecan” is actually of Native American origin and was used to describe nuts that required a stone to crack. Pecans are in the hickory family and grow naturally along the river bottoms of eastern North America and south into Mexico. Old, wild trees can exceed 100 feet in height and three feet in diameter. The well-known fruit of pecan trees was an important food for humans and wildlife for thousands of years before the first Europeans clanked ashore.
Native pecans exhibit great variety in nut size, shape, thickness of shell, and ripening date. Within this diversity an occasional highly desirable, wild tree was discovered with unusually large, thin-shelled, sweet nuts. In 1846, a Louisiana slave named Antoine successfully grafted one of these superior wild pecans onto a typical stock. His clones went on to be honored at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876, and became the first official plantings of improved pecans. The successful use of grafting techniques led to grafted orchards and the widespread commercialization of pecan production. Today, there are over 1,000 varieties of pecans with more than 300 million pounds produced annually in the United States.
1704 was a rough year for Bienville’s young Louisiana colony in New Orleans. Overdue supply ships from France resulted in a food shortage, and to stretch the remaining provisions Bienville released many of his men to go into the woods and live among the Indians until relief arrived. Andre Penicaut, a master carpenter, was one who left and traveled upriver to stay with the Natchez tribe. There, to his delight, he was introduced to a nut, which he described as “scarcely bigger than one’s thumb.” According to his spelling the Indians pronounced it “pacane.” Close enough for me. . .