If you like your protein tasty, abundant, local and free, bend over and pick up those native Texas pecans that dot the trail along the San Antonio River.
Pecans grow naturally along river bottoms – including our local riparian zone, from the Museum Reach down to the coast. They are unique to the United States and served as reliable winter sustenance for native American through the centuries. Many of the most prized pecan varieties – Choctaw, Cheyenne, Pawnee, Caddo – are named after native American tribes.
The oval-shaped nuts brag the highest antioxidant content of any nut, followed by walnuts and hazelnuts. A handful of pecans delivers healthy doses of Vitamins A and E, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and fiber. Plus, they taste good. And considering that a pound of shelled pecan halves at your local H-E-B goes for $10 and up, these free, protein-rich pennies-from-heaven are impossible to beat.
The price of our native nut has escalated dramatically in recent years thanks to China’s discovery of pecans, from $7- $9 several years ago for premium nuts to $13 a pound today, sources say.
Too much trouble to shell them, you say? No worries.
For 90 cents a pound, you can drop them off at Brookes Pecan up Austin Highway on Sunbelt Dr. in Terrell Hills and pick them up a few hours later relatively clean. Brookes offers cracking and machine shelling, which removes 70-90% of the shell. The extra step generally leaves you with a bit of sorting and picking to do, but it’s worth it.
Matt Brookes, 74, has been running the shelling operation for 37 years. To satisfy his 9,000 customers, he runs three sizes of cracking machines – small, medium and large. San Antonio once hosted half a dozen pecan shelling operations, but that’s no longer the case. Brookes is the only game in town for getting your pecans cracked and cleaned, while Belt & Pulley on Cevallos will crack your pecans for 20 cents a pound with a 20-pound minimum.
Brookes recommends packaging the pecans in a sturdy zip lock bag and storing them in the freezer. “They’ll keep for years,” he said, adding that the USDA says frozen pecans will keep for 24 months, but that he had a customer once keep frozen pecans for 11 years. “They were dry. But they were still good,” he said.
This year has been tough for commercial pecan growers, according to the Texas Pecan Growers’ Association (TPGA). Spring rains caused problems. Damp conditions allowed diseases to flourish on the leaves and nut husks. Then in April and May, rain inhibited wind pollination. “The pollen doesn’t transfer correctly when it’s wet,” said Blair Krebs, a TPGA spokesperson. Finally, just as the trees were finishing up their production in October, we had more rain, which hindered the harvest. “With all the flooding, they can’t even get in there,” said Krebs. “The crop will be down in Texas.”
In 2014, Texas produced 61 million pounds of pecans, according to the USDA – a “good but not great year,” Krebs said. This year looks like about 55 million pounds.
For ideas on what to do with your pecans, check out the Wilson County Pecan Jubilee at John William Helton-San Antonio River Nature Park, in Floresville this Saturday, Nov. 14, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. The San Antonio River Authority sponsors the county fair style event about a 20-minute drive from downtown. The Jubilee will feature pecan harvesting demonstrations, tree giveaways, children’s activities and games, tree identification tours, food, live music, and a Pecan Dessert Bake-Off.
*Top image: The Pecan Tree at the Alamo is the oldest on the property, planted in 1850.