John R. Pyzner | 3/30/2005 3:49:57 AM
Louisiana is fortunate in that it has a good-tasting, healthful treat that literally falls out of trees. Pecans are found in many yards, pastures, fence rows and river bottoms. Louisiana is a major producer of native pecans, and its many commercial orchards produce improved pecan varieties. Many Louisianans have the opportunity to harvest pecans from their own trees.
Pecans should be harvested soon after they fall. A lot of things can happen to pecans on the ground. Loss from wet weather and hurricanes can be a serious problem. Wet pecans can deteriorate rapidly on the ground if the weather remains warm. Hurricanes and floods can wash pecans away. Excessive loss to squirrels and other critters often occurs in years with light crops.
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. Adding fans and heat can speed drying.
Pecans with high moisture content (more than 6 percent) do not store well. An easy 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.
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, ranging from three months at 70 degrees F to eight years at zero degrees. Nuts can be thawed and refrozen without loss of quality.
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 are usually stored shelled since they take up less space and can be conveniently used straight from the freezer. Unshelled pecans can be stored for a longer period than shelled nuts. The unbroken shell protects the kernel from bruising and offers protection against oxidation and rancidity of the kernel.