I hated, repeat hated, having to pick up pecans when I was younger. It was one of our dreaded after-school chores. I would work very hard, crawling on my hands and knees, laboring intently, for about five minutes , which seemed like an eternity. After that, I had a really hard time staying on task. I would day dream, make shapes out of the passing clouds, and probably throw a few pecans at my brother. The only problem was that the "work timer" was set for thirty minutes. I am telling you it was bordering on abuse! I didn’t even eat the pecans!
My dad would (and still does) have the nuts cracked, and then he would spend many evenings picking out the hulls and preparing the nuts for the freezer. Every Christmas he would mail bags of them to our relatives in other states. I couldn’t understand why all of my family members got so excited about a bag of pecans for Christmas. In college I started learning to bake and realized how expensive pecans are. I had no idea as a kid that some folks actually have to buy their pecans at the grocery store! What a blessing to have a yard full!
My sweet dad still picks up pecans. Still has them cracked, still spends hours picking out the hulls. Every pecan that I use in recipes has been picked up by my dad. I have not helped him for many years, but the little house I am about to move in to (next door to my dad) has a pecan tree. I guess I will have to start picking up pecans once again!
As a child, my older sisters and I would ride the school bus each afternoon in late fall and winter to my great-uncle’s house. He would be waiting for us under a great big pecan tree. We would spend the next few hours crawling around on our knees picking up pecans. For me, it seemed like an eternity each and every afternoon.
The pecans would stain our fingers nearly black, and our knees would be bruised. Although the temperature was probably never below 40 degrees, I felt as though I would freeze to death. I took many and long bathroom breaks. I volunteered to run back in the house to get snacks or drinks for everyone. Anything to keep from having to pick up the pecans.
As the youngest (and probably his favorite), Uncle Ab took pity on me. He, too, was the baby of his family, so we could relate to each other. He walked around with a pecan-picker-upper to trap the pecans, and when it was full, he would dump them in my bucket. Some days, that was the only reason my bucket had any pecans in it!
Uncle Ab would collect the pecans in croker sacks for each of us. He took those burlap bags to one of the local pecan shellers and sold them. Then, he divided the money between us four girls, according to how much we had each picked up. I was always disappointed to find my bag was never as full as my sisters’ bags, but they made sure that I had enough money to purchase Christmas gifts anyway.
Surrounding the home where I grew up, towered who-knows-how-old pecan trees. To the untrained eye, these trees were simply that: trees. To me, the leafy branches under which I played provided an avenue to give.
Every October as the air cooled and the leaves began to turn, excitement would set in. I patiently examined our yard everyday for what would fill my piggy bank--19 cent/pound at a time. On that glorious day when nuts began to cover the ground, I would put on my “yard clothes” and grab a bucket. Many people saw this as work, and most people had to pick up “on halves” (when a non-owner of the pecan trees offers to pick up the owner’s pecans and receives half the profit), but I joyfully gathered and got to keep every cent! My parents were simply glad the pecans did not go to waste.
Once I filled a few five gallon buckets, we would load them up and take them to Moorehead Pecan Company. Here is where I would anxiously await the total weight of my pecans--and then be given a hand-written check!
Why the jovial labor you ask? Pecan season lasted throughout the months of October and November. What month comes next? December. What is the holiday of giving? Christmas! I labored throughout those two months so that I might be able to receive a check, and then in turn buy Christmas gifts for my family and friends! My goal was to be able to give, and the pecans became an avenue for me to reach that goal.
No matter the attitude or reason for picking up pecans, we all learned the value of that precious nut. Whether to use them ourselves, to give them to others, or to sell them in order to purchase gifts for others, pecans are more significant to each of us than any other nut. While we cannot give you the experience of picking up pecans, we can show you one of the best rewards: Aunt Janet’s Jack Daniels Pecan Pie recipe! When you make this pie on your own, be thankful that you didn’t have to pick up those pecans. Or, if you did, be grateful you didn’t have to pay for them!
Aunt Janet's Jack Daniels Pecan Pie
1 cup flour
1/3 cup crisco
3 Tbsp cold water
Mix flour and crisco with a pastry blender--it will look like gravel. Add cold water. Knead the dough with hands to make sure the water absorbs evenly. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin until it is the appropriate size for your pie pan. (You may want to do this step with the dough between two sheets of parchment paper--but either way you will definitely need flour!) Place the rolled dough in the bottom of the pie pan pressing gently until it forms to the pan. Pinch the edges to create a pretty crust.
For Pie Filling:
1 cup pancake syrup
1/2 cup sugar
dash of salt
tsp of vanilla
1/4 cup Jack Daniels
1 cup chopped pecans
In a saucepan, combine pancake syrup, sugar, salt, vanilla and eggs. Mix with a beater just until eggs are incorporated well. Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in Jack Daniels. Stir in pecans. Pour the mixture into your prepared pie crust and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until the crust is brown.
**One of Aunt Janet's Tips: To prevent the crust from burning when the pie does not seem firm in the center, place the pie in the microwave for 20 seconds. This should firm the middle--but only use this trick if you are using a glass pan!
Click below for a printable PDF version of this recipe!