How to Pick Pecans

Add some crunch to holiday recipes with your own freshly gathered nuts.

My aunt lives on a large patch of land outside of Waxahachie. Each year, usually by the first week in November, the large grove of pecan trees that surrounds her house swells with thousands of nuts. I enlist family members, especially the kids and their friends, and we join the squirrels and harvest pecans. 

Gathering them is fun. Shelling them is a challenge, but worth the time. The last time I checked the price of shelled pecans at Tom Thumb, they averaged close to $1 per ounce. I can easily shuck five pounds in less than an hour, which allows me to pocket $80 and simultaneously enjoy fresher pecans.

Most residents of Dallas with pecan trees in their yard don’t share my romantic point of view. Pecan trees are considered trash trees. They demand water. They’re also susceptible to pests such as casebearers, shuckworms, and weevils. One squirrel can eat or store five pounds of pecans in a day. That’s fine if it’s your backyard in the city, but it’s not so great if you are a pecan farmer like Mike Sage of Sunnyvale Pecan Orchard. 

Sage works hard to keep his 140 pecan trees in shape. Each year he battles the elements and insects. “I get a different bug ever y year,” Sage says. “And I’ve got a slew of coyotes, foxes, and dogs that come around. The biggest pests here are the crows. I can’t keep them away.”

Sage has seven acres of pecan trees, most of which are at least 40 years old. In early November, he opens his fields to the public and offers a pick-your-own program. “I love getting out in the morning and shaking the trees and watching people walking beneath, gathering pecans,” Sage says.

He recommends calling ahead (972-226-7243), as conditions must be right. Once you get the thumbs up, grab a hand rake, snacks, and water. You’ll also need a sense of humor and some patience, as picking good pecans isn’t as easy as it sounds. Look for hulls that are uniform in size and shape and feel heavy in your hand. Avoid those with cracks or holes or ones that feel light or rattle when you jiggle them. 

Sunnyvale Pecan Orchard is divided into two sections. The front section is mostly full of the more familiar Choctaw, Cheyenne, and Desirable varieties, and the trees are older. Pawnee and Wichita pecans dominate the back area. 

Once you’ve cleaned your stash, store them in airtight containers in your freezer. Don’t store them at room temperature, as they will soften and sour like the ones you pay $1 an ounce for at the grocery store. 

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