Sunday, December 28, 2014

Nuts about the Holidays

In my last post, I waxed on all my feelings about giving this Christmas, but now that the special day has just passed, I want to admit and show-off the gift that most of my family received.
It's local, it's practical, it's handmade, and it's taken me about 30 hours to put together.

Pecans. (Pronounced Puh-kahns).
Pecan trees are the state tree of Texas New as a symbol of my growing love for this state, my everlasting appreciation for you in my life, and my evolving fascination with local fresh foods, I give you...Pecans.
As you enjoy these pecans, my hope is that you keep some things in mind.
1) These grew right out my window
in an orchard of about 20 pecan trees, that was planted sometime around 1950. We believe that this is the northernmost pecan orchard in the state, and perhaps the country (at least the highest elevation!) which (along with the year they were planted) may account for the small size of the nut.
These pecans are not only a delicious, nutritious snack for humans, but their long-standing presence has attracted a large following of crows that hang out and get their fill for a few weeks surrounding Thanksgiving. We imagine that they've been doing this for decades.
Pecans are also treats for families of all shapes and sizes that come out with containers of equally varying measurements to collect their nut needs for the winter. How wonderful to share such a nutritious resource with so many people, but what's in it for the tree?
Nuts are seeds. So the tree produces them hoping they will be delicious enough to be carried away and eaten by animals, or buried for the winter. The tree is banking on some of these seeds to be forgotten. In the case of an orchard, that rarely happens. I've combed through these fields pretty good, and anything that was left was likely caught by the crows.
(While writing this, I discovered that Pecans are not technically nuts but drupes, like other members of the Hickory family, which have a stone or pit surrounded by a husk).
In addition to being sweet and buttery, Pecans are a good source of manganese, protein and unsaturated fats.

So, what does it take to make pecans? Lots of water. The field these pecan trees sit in is slightly lowered, and was flooded several times throughout the year with water from the acequia on our property (a series of connecting canals that carry river water and snow run off from the mountains through distant fields and then back to the Rio Grande). In addition to water, they need ample sunlight, which they get plenty of in Albuquerque, and nutrients--which are returned to the soil through the dense Canada goose poop that so frequently covers the ground.

Once the nuts fall, which aligned with the first frost in mid-November, I started collecting. At first it was slim pickins...but eventually I couldn't walk a straight line without filling my pockets with every pecan I saw. I started noticing bigger ones, especially from the trees nearest the acequia. As soon as I had a good collection, I set up my workshop.
2. Shelling pecans takes a lot of time! After sending the first batch to a couple of families, I started filling my containers all over again. In the course of about two weeks, I came awfully close to my goal of 1,000 pecans, spending a total of almost 24 hours shelling. And the result was a little depressing. What I hoped would fill the tummies of many family members, turned into just a taste for the half dozen of you that get the gift.

Watching people unwrap my meager bag of nuts next to a monsterous box of  store-bought goods made them seem a bit unfit for a Christmas gift...but my hope is that when the holiday crazy subsides, each of my relatives will have a moment to savor the flavor, the protein, and the richly packed nutrients within this nut... In this time of absolute abundance, I hope that we can take time to appreciate the energy and amazement provided around us.

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