History of the Pecan and Georgia Pecans

For centuries, pecans have been one of the most popular edible dry fruits available. They are rich, decadent and particularly nutritious. While pecans are native to central and southern parts of the United States, they are now being cultivated all over the world.

Rich History
Pecans, although one of the most recently domesticated major crops has been an important part of southern diet and culture since before the arrival of European settlers. Fur traders originally brought the pecan to the Atlantic coast from Illinois, calling them "Illinois nuts".  The term pecan was coined by the Algonquin Indians, a North American tribe located in the southwest. It originated from their word "pacane", which means a nut that needs to be cracked with a stone. Pecans were the main food staple for these Native Americans and were particularly favored because they were:

  • Accessible to waterways
  • Easier to shell than other North American nut species
  • For their great taste.

Although pecans were renowned among the colonial Americans as a novelty, the commercial growing of pecans in the United States did not begin until the 1880s. And the first successful effort to graft pecan trees wasn’t recorded until 1846 after a slave gardener in southern Louisiana succeeded in grafting sixteen trees near his plantation.  In 1876, the resulting cultivar was named "Centennial" in honor of the 100th celebration of the United States. The cultivation of the pecan tree continued to increase, and the technique of sowing proved to be the most effective method.

Georgia Pecans
Although pecans are highly favored in Georgia today, Georgia farmers were relatively hesitant in accepting the benefits of this nut at first. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that several individual Georgia landowners began producing and marketing pecans on a small scale. In Savannah, there was about ninety-seven total acres by 1889.

By 1910 southwest Georgia landowners began planting thousands of acres of pecans. This time became known as the "pecan boom".  These orchards, however, were viewed more as a real estate enterprise than a commercial agricultural venture. Today, though, these early-twentieth-century plantations still remain the center of Georgia's pecan-producing counties.

By the 1950s, Georgia had become the country's leading producer of pecans and still remains the largest pecan-producing state in the nation to date.  Georgia pecan trees are one of the largest fruit-bearing trees with just one acre of pecan trees producing about 1,000 pounds of pecans. Today, more than 500 varieties of pecans exist with over 1,000 cultivars being released over the history of pecan culture. Only three are common and all three are available Georgia orchards.

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