We are visiting my family in northeastern NC for the long Thanksgiving weekend. I have gone over to see my grandmother, visiting with her, then going out to pick up pecans in her back yard/field. I picked up pecans and put them in the ubiquitous empty Cool Whip container you will find at my grandparents house. I have been picking up pecans there since I could walk. Every year in November and December, my grandfather would order my brother and I to come outside and pick up nuts. We gathered them and put them in paper grocery bags. Each year was a little different. Most years, like this one, there are a few nuts–enough to be make the searching worthwhile, but not enough to fill the freezer. Some years there were virtually no nuts, and some years were mast years where the ground seemed covered. You couldn’t walk without stepping on pecans. When we had mast years, my grandfather would even recruit my grandmother to come out and pick up nuts (she was usually in the house cooking), and they would gather bags and bags of pecans. In later years, they would send those nuts to a mechanical nut cracker in a neighboring county who charged a fraction of a dollar per pound to crack the nuts. They would then go back in the bags they came in and my grand parents would be left with the large (perhaps monumental) task of picking all the meat out of the shells, and getting out the bitter. But, most years they did all the work themselves. I don’t think I ever ate store bought pecans when I was a girl. I have memories of my grandparents and my great grandmother sitting at the kitchen table, newspaper spread out, cracking and picking pecans assembly line style. I usually helped, and I still enjoy doing that meticulous work that brings out sweet meats. It is really rewarding. Food that you gathered, cleaned and can eat– for free. Fresh pecans taste so much better.
You may wonder what we did with all those pecans. My family was not big on pecan pie, but we did eat a lot of roasted pecans and we used them in cookies and fruitcake. Most were stored in the freezer for the months and years to come when pecans were scarce, because, as my grandmother would say “they sure are expensive in the store”. We did not buy food if we did not have to!
It is a common thing to see people out in fields and yards with a bag and a stick (to brush away leaves–some sticks have baskets on the end that will pick up the nuts for you) this time of year. I think country folks are particularly good at gathering in food.
This is also the time of year where we gather as family, and country folks are pretty good at that too. I am grateful this year to gather these delicious nuts, and even more grateful to gather with my family, my mother, brother, sister-in-law, nephew, grandmother, cousin, aunt, uncle, great aunt, and friends from “back home”. Blessings.