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Texas Pecan Growers report good crop just in time for the holidays

Friesenhahn said his pecan harvest was not as big as last year, but he has plenty to sell.
Brian Kirkpatrick
Texas Public Radio
Mark Friesenhahn said his pecan harvest was not as big as last year, but he has plenty to sell.

The Texas Pecan Growers Association reports the state's pecan crop is looking good this harvest time.

Texas Public Radio visited the Comal Pecan Farm, south of New Braunfels, as grower Mark Friesenhahn was winding down his harvest.

Friesenhahn is a 5th generation German descendent whose family matriarch was part of the migration from Germany to Texas in the mid-1800s.The family has been farming and ranching along Dry Comal Creek pretty much ever since.

Friesenhahn began planting pecan trees on the farm in 1989. Today, the 71-year-old retired Exxon-Mobil engineer oversees 110 acres, half of which is planted with Pecan trees, some 49 per acre.

He took Texas Public Radio on a tour of his farm and explained some of the ups and downs of the pecan growing industry.

"The crop is a lot lower volume than last year and the quality, we've had a few issues with late season pests, insects," he said.

Mark Frisenhahn, right, is joined by his plant operator Guadalupe Gomez, in cleaning the pencans.
Brian Kirkpatrick
Texas Public Radio
Mark Frisenhahn, right, is joined by his plant operator Guadalupe Gomez, in cleaning the pencans.

"Last year we had a bumper crop. The normal expectation is a bumper crop is followed by what they call an off year. If you talk to people who have yard crops, they call it alternate baring is what it used to be called. A pecan tree saves itself. It it has a big crop, it uses up all of its hydrocarbon, carbohydrate inventory and the next year it'll say I have to save myself."

Statewide this year, just in time for all those holiday pecan pies, the 600 members of the Texas Pecan Growers Association are reporting a good harvest overall. Some growers in Central and East Texas had some disease troubles related to the weather.

The USDA reports Texas in 2020 harvested 45 million pounds of the nuts, ranking only behind Georgia and New Mexico in production. Nationally, the U.S. produces up to 300 million pounds of pecans every year, supplying 80% of the world's pecan supply.

What helps keep the Texas pecan crop strong from year to year is the diverse variety of pecans grown in the state. Different varieties are grown in different parts of the state based on climate and soils.

"Depending on the varieties, most of the farms are growing early varieties like Mandan, Lakota and Pawnee that ripen and shuck split in late September, so we start the last week of September and I'm just now finishing," he said.

The pecan harvest lasts into December in some parts of Texas.

Friesenhahn said in a good year, his of trees will produce 900 pounds of pecans per acre.

He told TPR how the pecans get from the trees to the market, and he proudly pointed out is 1958 Chevy dump truck is part of the hauling in of the nuts,. But it all starts with machinery that shakes the nuts from the trees.

"Shake them, pick them, bring them here to this simplified cleaning plant, remove all the sticks and trash that you see, Dry them down to five percent moisture, then them by size and quality and move them to the retail store," he said.

Frisenhahn said he's doing a lot more retailing of his own through his own farm store, specially after the wholesale market soured a few years ago

"Well, what has happened... the disagreements with China, the trade negotiations have resulted in basically no exports. So a lot of us, especially the smaller farmers who don't have all the big guy contacts for resellers, shelling plants, were forced to retail our pecans to make a return on the nut," he said.

Friesenhahn's on-site retail store offers pecans in the shell or out of the shell in bags. There is also pecan brittle, jalapeno pecan brittle, pecan oil, pecan butter, pecan pies, even pecan pie in a jar, pecan trail mix and chocolate covered pecans.

Some of the customers are attracted by the health qualities of pecans, according to the American Society for Nutrition, 90 percent of the fats in pecans are unsaturated. They are cholesterol and sodium free, rich in fiber, and the source of 19 vitamins and minerals.

The Friesenhahn family pecan pie recipe

Pie Shell Ingredients

  • 2 c. sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 c. shortening
  • 5-6 tsp. cold water

Pie Shell Directions

1. Add flour to a large mixing bowl. Mix in salt thoroughly.

2. Heat shortening in a saucepan or cook pot until it liquifies; don’t overheat.

3. Stir in liquid shortening with a large mixing spoon. Be careful; the shortening may be hot to the touch!

4. Continue stirring until shortening and flour are thoroughly mixed. The “dough” will now be pretty firm and sticky, so wipe excess dough from the mixing spoon and remove it.

5. Add about 1/2 of the cold water and hand- knead the dough to mix in the water.

6. Add a little more, but not all of the water, and continue hand-kneading the dough until it no longer “sticks” to your hands but is still “firm”. You’ll know the dough is ready when it is pliable, yet firm and does not stick to your hands.

7. Add a little more of the water if necessary, and finish the hand-kneading process. (HINT: add a bit of flour and knead further to firm it up if you’ve added too much water and the dough is too “thin”).

8. Form a good portion of the dough by hand into a ball and spread out on a cooking towel laid out on the counter and sprinkled with flour.

9. Begin forming the “pie shell disk” by kneading into a thick “disc” by hand. Then sprinkle flour on the disc and finish rolling out (use a large rolling pin) for the pie shell.

10. Sprinkle on additional flour as needed to keep the rolling pin from sticking.

11. Roll the pie shell dough out to a diameter larger than your pie pan. If you have enough dough, it will be about 3/16” thick and the diameter will be larger than the pie pan to facilitate forming within the pie pan with enough dough to form the “rim”). Turn the pie pan over, center it and lay it on the dough.

12. Grasp the corners of the cooking towel, pull the corners together and gently lift with one hand while holding the bottom of the dough with your other hand.

13. Quickly “flip” the dough and pie pan over, and carefully remove the towel. Then gently form the pie shell into the inside of the pie pan and trim the rim area for a nice presentation. Return the excess dough to the bowl for the next pie shell.

(NOTE: it takes a little practice to get the dough “just right”, but the results are worth it compared to ‘store-bought” pie shells!)

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