Cookin', Critters and Chillun

Picking up pecans in Georgia

My husband is a North Georgia boy. He grew up next to Emory University in Atlanta and didn’t have the privilege of pecan trees in his yard.

I did. My mother and daddy’s yard in South Georgia – Albany, to be exact (pronounced All-benny by those in the know) – had a couple of aging trees that bore just about enough pecans for them.

My cousin Jack Futch holds some of the cracked and partially shelled pecans. Photo by Meg Hibbert
My cousin Jack Futch holds some of the cracked and partially shelled pecans. Photo by Meg Hibbert

Compared to that, my cousins Margaret Ellen and Jack near Adel, Ga., have tons of pecans. Well, thousands of nuts, more than I’d want to count or pick up.

Over the Christmas holidays, Cousin Jack and I taught my Bill how to pick up pecans. I’m happy to say that backyard pecan harvesting and picking out nuts from the shell have advanced from the way we used to do them. Now to make picking up pecans easier there are “rollers,” which remind me of hamster cages on broom handles. They’re actually small cages of sturdy wire tines with enough space in between for pecans to go in.

The idea is to roll the tool with a motion I thought was like painting a floor with a paint roller. Bill compared it to the motions of vacuuming. (Yes, he vacuums. He also mops but he doesn’t usually do windows.)

At any rate, you push the roller across the ground, gather nuts until the cage is full, then open the tines against a wire bail on the edge of a 5-gallon bucket. Thirty or so pecans make a pound, depending on the size of the nuts.

My husband, Bill, learns how to roll pecans.
Husband Bill learns how to roll pecans.

Because Jack only had two rollers, I left the roller-ing to him and Bill. I returned to my usual bending from the waist and pitching pecans into the bucket. In taller grass where rollers don’t work well, I resorted to crawling on my overalled knees. It was like hunting Easter eggs, only pecans hide much better.

Pecans usually fall off the trees starting around October and going through about now. My cousins had been overwhelmed with a huge crop, and hindered by Margaret Ellen’s bad back and Jack’s job fixing people’s air conditioners. She was fretting about not getting the nuts picked up and sold, so I sent word we would come down and help a little.

By the time we arrived at their house Dec. 28, Margaret Ellen and Jack had gotten a young couple who are both out of work to pick up pecans and sell them, going halves with my cousins.

Pecans are selling for the best price in years, Jack said.

It seems the Chinese have discovered what Georgians and other Southerners have known for centuries: how good pecans are, and about 65 percent of Georgia’s pecan crop goes to China and other countries overseas. The buying price for pecans in Georgia right now is $1.50 to $4.25 a pound, according to the agricultural price index I checked.

A full roller of pecans ready to be emptied into a 5-gallon bucket.
A full roller of pecans ready to be emptied into a 5-gallon bucket.

They’re so valuable that people are stealing pecans more than usual. A Dec. 20 report in The New York Times says scores of people in several counties have been caught and prosecuted for stealing nuts from back yards and along highways.

Commercial growers use machines with big boom extensions to shake trees to make the nuts fall out of their dried black husks on the trees. The rest of us pick pecans up after they fall, or, like some of the people we saw along U.S. 41 and in Adel, toss branches or hunks of wood to knock down the last of the nuts.

We paid Jack for getting somebody to crack and remove the shells from the 34 pounds of pecans Bill and I – and Jack – had picked up in about two hours. But he wouldn’t let us pay him for the nuts. “Those pecans aren’t for sale to you,” he said. I love cousins.

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