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Introducing the Georgia Pecan

Really quick question for you: What is Georgia’s Official State Nut?

If you answered the pecan, you would be correct. That’s because in May 2021, after Georgia reclaimed its position as the top pecan-producing state in the nation, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed off on Senate Bill 396, officially declaring the pecan as the state’s official nut. In signing the bill, it was clear that the state has finally recognized the deep, historical roots of the pecan, its importance to the state’s economy, and its many health benefits.

Not Only Georgia’s Nut, but Also America’s Nut

The pecan is one of the few edible nuts native to the United States and Native Americans can attest that the Carya illinoinensis (the Latin name of the pecan tree) was growing along the river basins of the central and southern parts of the country long before the Europeans first stepped foot on the land. However, when Europeans finally did arrive in North America, the Native Americans of the West shared their indigenous nut with fur traders who brought them back east and introduced them to Europe and the rest of the world.

What’s more, American history is full of stories of how our forefathers’ were enamored with the pecan. For instance, Thomas Jefferson was first introduced to the pecan while exploring the Mississippi basin. He became so enamored with them that he brought a bunch of them back with him, even sharing some with his friends.

One of those friends was George Washington who never roamed too far thereafter without his pockets lined with what he called “Illinois nuts”. Both Washington and Jefferson would even plant pecan trees in their home gardens at Mount Vernon and Monticello, respectively.

However, it wouldn’t be until the mid-19th century that an enslaved African-American man known only by the name Antoine would change the course of history for the pecan forever.

Antoine’s Pecans

Though enjoyed by early Americans for their delicious buttery taste, pecans weren’t easy to cultivate. Sure, you could take your chances by planting the seeds into ground, but the results weren’t uniform. You could end up with a tree that produced plenty of pecans or a tree that produced a only paltry few.

In 1822, South Carolinian Abner Landrum discovered a new way of budding pecan trees by taking a twig from a small, insignificant native pecan and successfully grafting it on to the hardy stock of native hickory trees, thereby creating a superior nut.

For whatever reason, however, this technique was forgotten about for nearly 50 years when an enslaved African American gardener from Louisiana named Antoine perfected Landrum’s technique that allowed for the propagation of pecans on a commercial level, thus making it a viable cash crop across the Southern U.S.

The Backbone of Georgia’s Economy

Despite the pecan’s long history in North America, Georgia farmers were a bit late to the table in realizing the benefits of the pecan. Nevertheless, by the 1950s, Georgia would become the country’s leading pecan producer, a title that Georgia recently reclaimed after being bested by New Mexico in 2018 and 2019 (at which time Georgia pecan farmers were recovering from damage caused by Hurricane Michael by 2018).

Still, not one to make excuses, Georgia’s pecan growers pulled themselves up bootstraps and by 2020 pecan production rose by 95% to 142 million pounds. With statewide pecan-bearing acreage at around 129,000 acres, that’s an amazing 1,100 pounds per acre that were produced. With the average grower price in 2020 at $1.32 per pound, that means Georgia pecans added close to $400 million into Georgia’s economy.

As Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said after signing off on Senate Bill 396 that officially made the pecan Georgia’s official nut, “… make no mistake, the backbone of our economy in Georgia is in places just like this and people that are growing these nuts…”

Health Nuts

Along with the economic benefits of growing pecans, there are numerous health benefits that come with eating them as well. Pecans are chock full of antioxidants, monosaturated fats (that’s the good kind), important vitamins like B and E and minerals like zinc that our bodies need. All of these lead to stronger bones, better digestion, and shinier hair.

Additionally, for those on a low-carb diet, pecans are lower in carbohydrates and higher in dietary fibers than most other nuts out there. They’re also a good fit for a variety of other healthy diets including kosher, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan, to name just a few.

What’s more, to take advantage of those healthy benefits, you can enjoy pecans in countless ways. Eat them raw or roasted and flavored straight out of your hand as a delicious snack or add them to some of your menu’s salads, main dishes, and desserts to give them a real boost of savory flavor.

In the end we have one more question for you: What are you doing to get you and your customers to know and love our country’s most delicious and indigenous nut better?