The Pecan: A History of America's Native Nut

The Pecan: A History of America's Native Nut

by James McWilliams
     
 

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What would Thanksgiving be without pecan pie? New Orleans without pecan pralines? Southern cooks would have to hang up their aprons without America’s native nut, whose popularity has spread far beyond the tree’s natural home. But as familiar as the pecan is, most people don’t know the fascinating story of how native pecan trees fed Americans

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Overview

What would Thanksgiving be without pecan pie? New Orleans without pecan pralines? Southern cooks would have to hang up their aprons without America’s native nut, whose popularity has spread far beyond the tree’s natural home. But as familiar as the pecan is, most people don’t know the fascinating story of how native pecan trees fed Americans for thousands of years until the nut was “improved” a little more than a century ago—and why that rapid domestication actually threatens the pecan’s long-term future.

In The Pecan, acclaimed writer and historian James McWilliams explores the history of America’s most important commercial nut. He describes how essential the pecan was for Native Americans—by some calculations, an average pecan harvest had the food value of nearly 150,000 bison. McWilliams explains that, because of its natural edibility, abundance, and ease of harvesting, the pecan was left in its natural state longer than any other commercial fruit or nut crop in America. Yet once the process of “improvement” began, it took less than a century for the pecan to be almost totally domesticated. Today, more than 300 million pounds of pecans are produced every year in the United States—and as much as half of that total might be exported to China, which has fallen in love with America’s native nut. McWilliams also warns that, as ubiquitous as the pecan has become, it is vulnerable to a “perfect storm” of economic threats and ecological disasters that could wipe it out within a generation. This lively history suggests why the pecan deserves to be recognized as a true American heirloom.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
09/01/2013
McWilliams (Just Food; A Revolution in Eating) offers another entry in a growing field of books that trace the historical and cultural paths of a single food. Whereas these works were once the domain of academics, recent titles, including this one, are written in a style accessible to general readers. The author does an admirable job of telling the very American story of the pecan, starting with pre-Columbian times and arriving at the sophisticated and improved pecan that is produced today. According to the author, the scrappy pecan tree managed to survive and thrive despite early periods of harvest methods that thinned groves, a cotton industry that had landowners clearing forest for crops, and spring flooding. McWilliams weaves American history, agricultural history, and science into the story of the wild pecan groves and their transformation into an industrialized crop that some believe was saved by rising exports to China. While the author ends with some concerns about the future of the pecan, readers will be left with hope that the tree will persevere. VERDICT This excellent and charming story describes a tree that endured numerous hardships to become not only a staple of Southern cuisine but an American treasure.—Ann Wilberton, Pace Univ. Lib., New York

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780292749160
Publisher:
University of Texas Press
Publication date:
10/01/2013
Pages:
192
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.00(d)

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