Did you know pecans are the only tree nut native to North America? The origin of the pecan can be traced back as early as the 1500s and was named by Native Americans. The word pecan is derived from the Algonquin tribe’s word “pacane” which translates to “nuts requiring a stone to crack”. Native Americans were the first to cultivate and utilize wild pecans and their trees. They highly valued pecans for their delicious taste, nutritional content, and because they were easier to shell than other North American nut species. They even used pecans to make a fermented drink called “Powcohicora”.
Between the late 1600’s and the early 1700s, Spanish colonists cultivated pecan orchards. The 1700s were an important time period for pecans. In 1772, Long Island, New York, became the location where the first pecan trees were planted in the United States. In 1775, George Washington planted pecan trees and so did Thomas Jefferson in 1779. By the end of the 1700s, pecans became increasingly popular, and therefore their economic potential was realized.
In 1802, pecans were exported by the French to the West Indies. In 1822, a man from South Carolina named Abner Landrum discovered a new pecan budding technique. This allowed pecan plants to unite with a growing wild plant by placing it in close contact, thus creating a superior nut. For some reason, this was forgotten until 1876. It was then an African-American slave gardener from Louisiana, named Antoine successfully recreated this grafting technique. The Best Pecan Exhibited award at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 went to Antoine and his seeds were the first official planting of improved pecans.
From then on, the growth and spreading of these trees were gradual. However, in 1880, the pecan industry began to boom when Louisiana and Texas nurserymen learned of pecan grafting and began propagation on a commercial level.
The pecan industry has steadily increased since 1920 when commercial processing began. It has risen from 2.2 million pounds to around 300 million pounds today. The United States is the world’s largest producer of pecans and they are exported worldwide. It’s easy to see why this is the case because pecans are a versatile nut that can easily be added to salads, desserts, and other delectable recipes.