Origin and History
One of this country’s first commercially cultivated crops, pecans date as far back as the 1500s, when they were a major food source for native Americans (the name “pecan” comes from the Algonquian word meaning “nut requiring a stone to crack”). Over the following years, pecans were cultivated by foreign explorers and by American colonists, including statesman-farmers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. When the nut’s economic potential was realized in the early 1800s, the pecan-growing industry took off. Today, the pecan is one of the most valuable North American nuts.
Pecan trees begin bearing fruit at three to four years, but aren’t fully fertile until they’re about 20 years old, at which point a tree can produce up to 500 pounds annually. The tree’s durable, light-colored wood is valued for furniture and floors, and its wood chips are often used for smoking meats.
Years of cultivation have produced hundreds of varieties of pecans — small, large, hard-shelled, soft-shelled. You can buy pecans whole, halved, chopped or in chips. The flavorful nut lends its rich, meaty texture to sweets, snacks, salads and entrees. Pecans are loaded with fiber, calcium, potassium, iron and oleic acid.