Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pecan season has begun--it's official!

Removing the husks from pecans this early in the season will do this to fingers. And hands, and shirt, and on occasion, splatter the face too.   A person can wait until the pecans fall from the husks naturally, but there's the squirrel competition for that and they're harder to find that way.

When pecans are ripe enough to pick off the tree, some of the husks will show signs of splitting open while they're still green, like this:

What will happen later in the season is that the husks turn brown and shriveled, and the nuts drop of their own accord especially during a windy day.  However, when they do that, they also attract other vermin besides squirrels (to me, a squirrel is just a big rat with a bushy tail. They *are* rodents, after all, and can be just as destructive).

Hunting pecans kinda makes up for not hunting sassafras and hickory nuts out in Ozark country like I used to do when my stompin' grounds used to be the Mississippi River area, and yeah, I knew exactly what Ewell Gibbons was talking about, with those wild hickory nuts.  People of ease tend to not mess with 'em because getting the shells open make you wish for a stick of dynomite {that's a JJ Walkerism, not a misspelling} (black walnuts are like that too) but once you get that meat out, there's nothing like it.  They don't call hickory nuts "butternut" for nothin'. Don't let size fool you either.  Whether pecans or hickory, the best flavor comes in the smaller nuts, which is why I'm not too crazy about Shagbark hickory or commercial pecans.  Them li'l bitty wild ones are the best.

That chartreuse dye on my hands won't come off. It'll turn black, then deep brown just before it wears off.  In a couple weeks.

A few fine points on hunting wild pecans--there's a difference between wild pecans and a commercial pecan grove that has gone feral, and it's mainly in the bug department.  There are three main types of bugs that attack pecans: webworms (eat foliage, doesn't affect the nuts), huskworms (make a black mess of the husks but don't affect the nuts either. Not good to be squeamish), and nut borers, which will affect all kinds of nuts besides just pecans.  They'll be in hickory nuts and black walnuts, too, and they're the worst in a feral commercial grove because when in use, they've been sprayed for bugs year after year and there are always superbug survivors that run rampant when the grove goes feral.

It's the bugs and the mold that force a sort of particular husking routine when you're husking pecans: they need to be husked almost immediately after harvest, as mold will develop and it's basically fatal to the nut kernel.  Not all nuts will husk cleanly, so it's best to not waste time husking those--throw those in a separate bag (paper, preferably--mold likes an environment that doesn't "breathe" much, like buckets) and deal with those later.  Husk the ones that show signs of splitting and the ones that yield splits easily when pressed on both "poles" of the husk.

There are two primary reasons why husks won't yield: the nut's not sufficiently ripe, or it contains a borer.  Borer eggs get laid inside the nut when the shell is immature and soft.  The borer hatches later and when large enough, bores from the inside out, then winters over in the husk on a nut from an otherwise ripe tree is most likely to be wormy.  Do NOT throw those back on the ground--toss 'em in the garbage can.  Those things have sharp teeth and will bore through paper bags and thin plastic.  If you're field-dressing your pecans, throw them in an old coffee tin, or they'll get out if you just toss 'em into a grocery bag whether paper or plastic.

Oh yeah--what do I use to crack open black walnuts and hickory nuts? ViseGrips.  When desperate, I'll use a hammer but with box walls around the work area. Using a hammer generates serious shrapnel and you can lose the entire kernel that way.

And now a word about squirrels. If you think that just because they can outsmart the average human being, they're also smart enough to know when to start their own nut harvests, you'd be wrong.  How squirrels harvest nuts depends on the squirrel population because Enemy Number One is the competition, and when there are Squirrel Wars, they'll strip every pecan tree in the region before September is over and they all starve over winter, turning to alternative foods like what's in your outside garbage can, your dog's food, fall-blooming ornamental flowers and shrubs, and tree bark around the youngest twigs.  Not to mention serious bark around your prized saplings, if you installed any the same year.  Nope--they're not cute, and I don't care how disarming they appear.

I just couldn't leave that spider well enough alone.  I did up the following and posted it on Facebook:

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