A Mighty Pecan


Native to the southern and central regions of North America, the word itself is derived from multiple Native American languages. According to the Extension Service, Native Americans roasted the nuts, cooked them into bean dishes, harvested their oil and used them as a way to thicken soups and stews. For years pecan trees grew wild, but after they were commercialized about a century ago several varieties were developed, leading some to argue—including historian James McWilliams, author of the book The Pecan: A History of America’s Native Nut—that such “rapid domestication” actually threatens the health of the species.

Some sources say it can be hard to grow pecans, especially without the aid of pesticides and it’s unlikely to harvest much of a crop from a few backyard trees. But that seems hardly the case in this region where pecan trees grow unaided in residential areas all across the Pope and Yell County area. And pecan trees are growing in popularity. As we learned last week in the low-impact design workshop, they are a favorite for creating green spaces and are used in what it often called soft engineering, a concept that employs plants to help drain soil, reduce water runoff and decrease water pollution. While we tend to think of them as backyard growers, when grown correctly, they make wonderful food producers for public spaces.

Besides being incredibly tasty, pecans are extremely nutritious. They’re considered a complete protein and are high in healthy fats, iron, calcium, potassium and vitamins B and C.  You can eat them raw, roast them, bake them into all manner of holiday sweets, or even freeze them to use throughout the year. Reader Annette Couch Land, for example, says she likes to cook her pecans into brownies and coconut bon bons, just to name a few. We recently tried roasting them in butter and making a simple trail mix with raisins. They’re endlessly versatile.

Sun shining through pecan trees this past summer at the McElroy House.

Sun shining through pecan trees this past summer at the McElroy House.

I asked a few readers if they had any stories they’d like to share about the importance of pecans.  Melissa Terry of Fayetteville wrote to say there are three pecan trees growing on the south side of the former playground at what used to be the Jefferson Elementary School in Fayetteville.  “I saw at least five to ten people down there everyday raking leaves back to gather the pecans until they were harvested.” she writes. “ Twenty plus years ago somebody made the decision to plant those trees and their vision is a great testament to the validity of the emerging trend (remembrance) of planting fruit and nut trees in public spaces,” she shares.

Do you have pecan trees growing in your yard? Who planted them and how do you make use of the nuts? We’d love to hear all about it and keep the information on hand for others at the McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources and Community Action.  Thanks so much for reading!

Further reading:

“Establishment and Maintenance of Landscape Pecan Trees in Southwest Arkansas” 

“Pecan, a Native Nut Species for the Edible Home Landscape”


The Seed and the Story is a partnership with theCourier and Post Dispatch newspapers in Pope and Yell County, Arkansas. This weekly column explores folklife, oral history, and community in central Arkansas, particularly the Yell County area where the column originates. Columns are often written in partnership with theMcElroy House: Organization for Folklife, Oral History, and Community Action and humbly attempt to bridge intergenerational themes in the region.