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home : columnists : columnists May 25, 2016

12/13/2013 9:58:00 AM
Bits from Betsy

Have you priced a bag of pecans (or pee'- cans as they are called by some folks in the south) lately?

The delicious little oval beauties have become very precious indeed. The price is up by at least 30% since last year, making at least 75% of us a bit less likely to include them in our holiday baking/candy making projects.

The pecan tree is an American native. It's about as common in southern states as walnut trees are here, but this year the trees have not produced anywhere near bumper crops for many reasons.

Weather is a major contributor to this shortage. Both too much rain and not enough rain are to blame. Record rainfall in the spring and summer hampered pollination. Record summer draught in Texas and Oklahoma stressed the trees; then too much rain in the fall made harvest difficult. It seems that heavy machines actually shake the nuts out of the trees, but soggy, wet ground made it difficult to move these machines through orchards.

Next on the list of reasons for high-priced pecans is the abundance of feral pigs in Texas. I know the outdoor shows on those high-numbered Dish TV channels are regularly featuring pig hunts in Texas and Louisiana, but things are a little different down there. Maybe wild pigs ARE a huge problem. If those pigs are doing damage by scarfing up barrels of pecans, something should definitely be done about it. Squirrels are taking their share, too. I don't have too much of a problem with the squirrels, they are generally pretty cute and not likely to attack if they find you in their favorite pecan-gathering spot.

The by-far biggest reason for the pecan shortage here in the U.S. is the growing taste for them in China. Now that China has a middle class that enjoys spending money, they have discovered the joy of snacking on shelled pecans, roasted and flavored. They buy them from street vendors, who are ordering all they can from U.S. growers. Money isn't a problem; after all, the Chinese have most of our money, and are getting more of it every day. So not only do they own our country, they are also sucking up all the pecans they can get their hands on.

If growers can get more selling them in China, they are, of course, going to sell them in China. Can't blame them.

But what's a pecan pie without the topping of sweet, crispy pecans on top? It's just a sugar, corn syrup, eggs and butter glop of jaw-numbing sweetness. What's divinity without pecans, or Russian tea cakes minus pecans? Sure, you can put in walnuts, some might prefer them, but for me holiday treats demand pecans. My sweet potato souffle is just sweet potatoes without pecans on top. My fruit salad isn't the same without the occasional crunch of a pecan. My caramel corn is mundane without pecans in the mix.

Looking at the globe, you would think pecans could grow in southern China. Will the day come when we are buying our pecans from the Chinese? We are buying many things from them, but agricultural products from China are a bit scary. Remember the melamine in baby formula, and the mysterious animal health problems from imported pet food.

Pecans are special. Whether you purchase a scoop-shovel-full off a Georgia pickup truck, or choose a moderately sized bag of shelled and cleaned nut meats from the grocery store, pecans are a joy of the season, one of nature's spectacular gifts.

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