John R. Pyzner, Claesgens, Mark A. | 11/22/2006 1:45:12 AM
Louisiana’s pecan crop this year is excellent. The harvest forecast is 19 million pounds, which is 5 million pounds above Louisiana’s average of 14 million pounds, according to LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. John Pyzner.
Pecans are abundant in most areas of the state except in areas hardest hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year. The summer drought helped production on many of the yard tree pecans by reducing the amount of scab disease on these trees.
Pyzner says to harvest pecans as soon as they fall from the tree. Once on the ground, the crop is susceptible to unnecessary loss from squirrels, crows and other critters. Severe rains can wash away nuts and cause quality loss.
Pecans often contain excessive moisture when they first fall. Dry the nuts before storing them; place them in a shallow layer in a warm, dry area for approximately two weeks. Add fans and heat to speed drying.
Pecans with high moisture content (higher than 6 percent) do not store well. A method to determine if pecans are dry enough for storage is to shell a representative sample of the pecans. Bend the kernels until they break. If they break with a sharp snap, the pecans are usually dry enough for storage. If you don’t hear a sharp snap, dry the pecans some more.
The horticulturist says you can enjoy this year’s harvest until next year’s crop if you store the nuts properly. Improper storage often leads to darkening of kernels and rancidity of the oils, destroying the natural flavor and aroma of the nuts.
Store pecans under refrigeration. Lowering the temperature extends storage life, ranging from three months at 70 F to eight years at zero degrees.
Pecans are usually stored shelled since they take up less space than unshelled and can be conveniently used straight from the freezer. Unshelled pecans, however, can be stored for a longer period. The unbroken shell protects the kernel from bruising and offers some protection against oxidation and rancidity of the kernel.
Refrigerated or frozen pecans should be placed in airtight containers. Pecan kernels readily absorb odors from other foods, resulting in off flavors. Pecans that are stored at room temperature for an extended period should be held in containers that are adequately ventilated. Avoid storing pecans that have not been dried properly in plastic bags.
Pecans have traditionally been used in pies, cookies, candies and other desserts. They also can be used in more healthful ways such as taking chopped pecans straight from a bag in the freezer and adding some to morning cereal. Pecans can also be added to salads, casseroles, pasta and other dishes.
Pyzner says health-conscious people now can enjoy pecans with a clear conscience, too. Research has shown that pecans are antioxidant rich, cholesterol-lowering and heart healthy.
For related horticultural topics, go to the LSU AgCenter Web site, www.lsuagcenter.com. Also, contact the county agent in your local parish LSU AgCenter office.