I have long been a big fan of pecans. I have never been certain how to pronounce the word — I say “pee-can,” you say “p’cahn” — but I’ve always known exactly how to devour the delectable nutty meat found inside the shells.
When I was growing up we could find pecans all over the place -- just lying around on the ground. It was almost like they grew on trees. I would watch old men who worked in the mill pick up pecans and crack them against one another in their powerful fists. We ain't talking paper shells here, either. I would try to do that in private, but lacked the power to make it happen. I was always relegated to stomping on the nut with my foot, which crushed the pecan and ground bits of shell into the meat. Sometimes I cracked them with my teeth. That would create a whole different set of problems.
One day, I told myself, I would be strong enough to crack two pecans in my bare hands. I'm still working on it.
When Thanksgiving approached, Mama would take us to visit her friend who lived out in the country and we would pick up pecans. We could have all we wanted. It was fun -- for the first five minutes. After that, it was back-breaking labor, but Mama would remind us how much we would enjoy the pies and candy and other dishes she would create from the fruits of our enforced labor.
Once I was grown, I spent two years in exile below the gnat line. I lived in a singlewide trailer in a pecan grove in Meigs, Ga. I may write a book about my experiences in Meigs, once the statute of limitations has expired on all of the stuff my roommate and partner-in-crime, Ken Cooper, and I got into down there.
I was sound asleep one Saturday morning, on up in the fall, when the earth started to move under my mobile home. The trailer was shaking and trembling and I thought it would come apart at the seams, and pecans began pounding the top of the roof like they were being fired from a Gatling gun. I jumped out of bed and ran to the window. There was no earthquake and no pending apocalypse. Gathering season had simply begun for the pecan crop. Huge machines, called shakers, had been hooked up to the giant pecan trees surrounding my home and large sheets had been placed under the spreading limbs. The harvest was being shaken out of the trees, onto the sheets. I watched in fascination and developed a whole new appreciation for South Georgia agricultural ingenuity.
Suffice it to say that pecans were plentiful when I lived in a grove, but once I moved home, to the North Georgia Piedmont, I had to rely on more conventional sources to get my share. Once in a while Lamar Crawley would bring me a grocery bag or two he had gathered in his yard, down in Monticello -- and I could always count on Ben Evans to have a fresh crop on hand at his market.
The bottom line is, like I said at the top of the page, I have always been a big fan of pecans. Now I told you all of that to tell you this. Pecans, even in Georgia, which is the leading supplier of pecans worldwide, are in short supply this season. That's right. As many pecans as we grow here in the Peach and Poultry State, the supply is not enough to keep up with the demand.
Oh, you can find pecans all right. They will be on the shelves of every supermarket and produce stand around -- but you'd better be prepared to cross someone's palm with silver because prices are going to be sky high this time around.
John Steedman, owner of the North Georgia Pecan Company, recently reported in the Athens Banner Herald that the price of a pound of premium pecans would jump this year to $9.95 -- a two dollar increase over last year. That's a pretty hefty jump. He blamed this year's drought in South Georgia for part of the problem. The other cause, he said, was that the Chinese have developed a penchant for pecans -- particularly those of the Georgia variety.
That's right. My access to pecan pie, glazed pecans, pecan brittle and all the other delectable dishes my lovely wife Lisa makes with pecans during the holidays, is at risk due to dry weather and Asian appetites.
Not to fear! It wouldn't be Thanksgiving, for me, without pecan pie, and I shall prevail. I'm making a run to Monticello to see Lamar Crawley. If anybody sees Lisa at the grocery store, please remind her to pick up an extra bottle or two of Karo syrup. In the meantime, pray that the Chinese don't discover sweet potatoes. They are my second favorite kind of pie.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. He will be signing his new "Need Two" audio book, as well as all his other works, Sunday from noon until 4 p.m. at Heartscapes Gallery, on Ga. Hwy. 212.