Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pecans ripe but not ready

Gardner, 9 Oct. 2013
   Two weeks ago I posted this photo of the 'Gardner" pecan cultivar (photo at right). By October 9th the shuck of Gardner had split and this pecan fruit was botanically ripe. However, if you were to remove the nut from the husk at this time and immediately crack open the shell you would find a white, rubbery kernel inside. And the nut meat would taste nothing like the sweet, oily kernel you normally associate with fresh pecans.

Gardner, 23 Oct. 2013
   Two weeks later, the shucks on Gardner look about the same as they did before. The shucks might be slightly more dry along the split-open sutures but the hull is still green and covering the nut (photo at left). I pulled a nut from the husk and shelled it out. The kernel was not at all dry and still hadn't developed its normal golden color (photo above). Two weeks after "ripening" this Gardner was still not ready to eat.
    The bottom line is that the green shuck traps moisture in the nut, preventing it from fully curing. Under natural conditions, our trees will experience a hard freeze, killing the green tissues in the shuck and allowing both shuck and nut to fully dry before harvest.
     For those not patient enough to wait for a killing freeze, the nuts can be physically removed from the shuck (by hand or with a mechanical deshucker). Once the nuts are removed from green shucks, they are still full of moisture and will need to be dried.  I've see all kinds of methods to air dry pecans. Nuts can be placed in mesh bags and hung from the rafters in the garage. Pecan can also be spread onto drying racks built from 2x4s and 1/2 inch hardware cloth. If you use drying racks, make sure to allow for free air movement from both above the rack and below the hardware cloth bottom. Don't use heat to dry pecans but a simple box fan is useful for keeping air moving around the nuts.
     On a larger scale, I've seen growers use a "peanut" wagon to dry pecans. A peanut wagon is basically a large drying rack on four wheels. A grain drying fan (no heat!) is attached to the wagon to keep air moving around the nut crop and promote drying.
     Personally, I prefer to allow nature to dry my pecan crop. Natural drying is a heck of a lot less work and doesn't require the purchase of additional equipment or electricity