Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It's that nutty time of year

One of Shane's nicknames for me is "Squirrel." It seems appropriate now that pecan season is here.

Usually I don't bother trying to gather so many. In years past I would fill up the occasional plastic sack, or my pockets if I'm out for a walk and happen to see a lot of pecans laying around. But this year the temptation was too great. It seems the pecan trees have produced a bumper crop.

Here's another photo of my nutty trove, with the roll of paper towels in front to give you an idea of the depth of these bags. 

You're looking at about 7 solid hours of pecan picking. I have the sore back to prove it.

Every year I tell myself I need to get one of those nifty nut pickers so I won't have to bend over and break my back. And it's not just my back. A very dry summer followed by some nice fall rains caused the grass to spring up. It's thick and lush and the pecans get lost in the grass, so there has been a fair amount of crawling around on hands and knees sorting through the verge. As a result, my shins are sporting some nut-sized bruises.

I know some people probably think I'm crazy for devoting so much time to gathering pecans. I've tried to get my husband to help, but it's torture for him. Maybe it's the peace and quiet, or the looking, or the fact that technology is not involved, but he just won't do it. 

Of course, I'm not the only two-legged squirrel out foraging, and there are some ethics to pecan picking, like not straying too close into someone else's "territory." Some folks won't care if you sidle right up to them while searching, but others tense up if they feel someone is encroaching on their territory, even if you're on public land. The other day when I was picking I had one lady come right over fairly close to me and start filling up a bucket. Her boldness surprised me at first, but we got to chatting and I noticed it was nice to have someone to talk to. Another guy actually invited me over to the tree he was working under because the pecans were so plentiful, and because he was a really nice man. Later, one gentleman apologized for coming over to where I was picking, saying he just wanted to talk. We talked pecans for a bit - the best trees, how he feeds them to his neighbor's ducks (what!??) - and then he wandered off. Another guy drove right over to me, in his car, to offer me the few pecans he had gathered. It was a nice gesture, but all I could think about was how he was driving on top of pecans.

My pecan (and that's pronounced puh-con, not pee-can, here in the Midwest) picking endeavors began young. I can still remember the first time I went. I was eight and we had just moved to a small farm in Udall, Kan., that summer. It was now fall and my dad had us all go out to the edge of a field where a big pecan tree was growing. We gathered pecans as a family - I don't remember us ever doing it again, from then on I went out on my own. But I really didn't know anything about pecans at that point, so this was definitely educational. We had lived on Broadway St. in Wichita before that, right in the middle of a busy town (and hooker highway), so I'd never seen nut-bearing trees that I can remember, anyway. My dad told me native pecans are the best tasting, and I think he was right about that.

One summer my dad brought home a Potter nutcracker. 

I think he said he paid $50 for this cast iron miracle worker that cracks the shells while keeping the nut meats intact. That was probably around 1980. Now they cost well over $150 new, but you can find used ones on ebay. I paid around $50 for a used one. Unfortunately, it doesn't have the nice cover that keeps shells from flying all over, but I'm sure it will work ok. I need to get it mounted to a board and then I'll be good to go. These crackers are the best around and excellent for black walnuts - one of the hardest nuts to crack. Which reminds me...I need to pick up some walnuts, too!

I'm a little daunted by the amount of pecans I have gathered. I know I should stop, but the hunter/gatherer in me just can't quit. It's like an addiction once you get started, like you're gleaning treasure or something. I can't say I like the shelling as much. It's hard on your hands and slow-going. But there is a rhythm to it and, like gathering, a way to get your mind off of things. 

I'm also looking forward to making pecan pie this year. I use my mom's old Karo syrup recipe and it is really the best pie ever. When I was little I remember whenever Mom needed pecans for cookies or banana bread or pecan pie it was my job to crack a cup of pecans for her. It was fun. 

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