John R. Pyzner, Claesgens, Mark A. | 11/13/2007 8:07:38 PM
Pecans are nutritious, tasty treats that literally fall from trees. They should be handled properly to ensure that their flavor and quality remain until the next harvest, according to LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. John Pyzner.
Pecan trees are found in yards, pastures, fence rows and river bottoms in Louisiana. Harvest the nuts soon after they fall, because “a lot of bad things can happen to them on the ground,” Pyzner says.
Storms, hurricanes and other wet weather can cause serious problems. Wet pecans deteriorate rapidly on the ground if the weather remains warm. Hurricanes and floods can wash pecans away. Squirrels and other critters can deplete the supply.
Pecans often contain excessive moisture when they first fall. The nuts should be dried before they are put in storage. Drying can usually be accomplished by placing the pecans in a shallow layer in a warm, dry area for two weeks. Add fans and heat to speed drying.
Pecans with high moisture content (more than 6 percent) do not store well. Pyzner says a simple method to determine if pecans are dry enough for storage is to shell a representative sample and 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 kernels should be tested as soon as shelled since they can dry quickly after shelling.
Proper storage preserves nut quality until the next pecan crop is harvested. Poor 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. Shelled pecans can be stored from three months at 70 degrees to eight years at zero degrees. They can be thawed and refrozen without loss of quality.
Pecans are usually stored shelled since they take up less space and can be conveniently used straight from the freezer. Unshelled pecans can be stored three months to six months longer than shelled nuts depending on the temperature. The unbroken shell protects the kernel from bruising and offers 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 stored at room temperature for an extended period should be held in containers that are adequately ventilated. Avoid storing in plastic bags pecans that have not been dried properly.
Pecans have traditionally been used in pies, cookies, candies and other desserts. They also can be used in more healthful ways such as sprinkling chopped pecans over morning cereal. Add them to salads, casseroles, pasta and other dishes.
Research has shown that pecans are antioxidant-rich, cholesterol-lowering and heart healthy.
“Health-conscious people can now enjoy pecans with a clear conscience,” Pyzner says.
For related seasonal stories, click on News>Holidays at the LSU AgCenter Web site, www.lsuagcenter.com. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.