Monday, February 3, 2014

The history of Peruque pecan

2013 Peruque crop
    Peruque--such an unusual name for a pecan cultivar. Pronouned per-u-k, the name Peruque is originally of French origin from the word perruque, meaning wig. This cultivar was found as a native pecan tree growing in the Mississippi river flood plain north of St. Peters, MO. Look at a map of the area and you will find Peruque Creek flowing northward toward the Mississippi. On older maps of the area, you will also find the riverside community of Peruque and a Peruque Island in the middle of the Mississippi River. What you won't find on maps is the landmark that this pecan cultivar was named after--the Peruque railway station on the Burlington Railway Line (long before it became the Burlington-Northern RR). But why early french explorers would name their small, fur-trading settlement along the banks of the Mississippi after the ubiquitous hair piece worn by 17th century, ruling-class men back in their home country is a story lost to history. 
    In 1956, Ralph Richterkessing from St Charles Missouri brought Peruque into the national spotlight when he reported his success with grafting scions from the original tree onto his own trees and the trees of several neighbors. As it turns out, the locals had known about this outstanding seedling pecan tree for over 50 years. The tree was originally known as the Hunn pecan named after the original owner of the tree, George Hunn (owner until 1918). However, Ralph Richterkessing was the first person to successfully propagate the tree and it was William Krause, the tree's owner after 1918, that suggested naming the cultivar "Peruque" after the local railway station.

Bird pecked Peruque pecans
    In 1956, the original tree was still standing--30 inches in diameter and 70 feet in height. The tree was one of several native trees in a grove of trees 1/4 mile from the Mississippi River. It is interesting to read Mr. Richterkessing's description of Peruque as a pecan cultivar. He metioned that Peruque "cracked out at approximately 60 percent kernel. The nuts run around 95 to the pound. The kernel has a bright color and a pleasing flavor. The nut matures about one week earlier than Major...and is somewhat more subject to damage by weevil, birds and squirrels." 
    Our experience with Peruque has been similar to Mr. Richterkessing's. The tree is productive and bears at a young age. The nuts are small but have very thin shells with high quality kernels. Unfortunately this cultivar is susceptible to pecan scab and is extremely susceptible to bird peck and bird pilferage. As an early ripening cultivar, Peruque seems to attract pecan weevils.  Peruque's small nut size will discourage me from grafting any more of this cultivar, but the high percent kernel will prevent me from cutting down mature high-yielding trees.