AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – As leaves begin to darken and pumpkins decorate every doorstep, pecans are ripe and ready for harvest as fall settles in in the Southeast. These nutritious nuts are members of the hickory family and grow on towering shade trees commonly found in yards, orchards and pastures throughout Alabama. Though pecan harvest typically occurs from October to December, enjoying the bounty year-round is possible with proper harvesting and storing methods.
“Pecans are mature and ready to harvest any time after the shuck begins to open,” said Angela Treadaway, an Alabama Extension regional food safety and quality agent.
When these shucks are open, shaking or thrashing branches becomes an easy way to harvest nuts directly from the tree. Doug Chapman, an Alabama Extension regional commercial horticulture agent, offers another option for removal of pecans from tree limbs.
“While commercial growers use tree shakers, homeowners mostly can and do rely on natural drop from the tree,” Chapman said.
Beware of leaving nuts on the tree too long, however, as predators often want to harvest them for themselves.
If harvesting occurs early in the season, nuts will have a high moisture content, which would require drying before storage.
“Dry them in the shell in thin layers on elevated screens, or hang them in small mesh bags in a well-ventilated area at room temperature out of direct sunlight,” Treadaway said.
After approximately two weeks of drying, shell one or two and if the nuts are dry enough they should snap when bent. This indicates that they are ready for immediate use or for storage.
Because of their high oil content, pecans are perishable nuts. Proper storage is the best way to ensure good quality year-round.
“At home, unshelled pecans can be stored in a cool, dry place,” Treadaway said. “Shelled pecans should either be refrigerated or frozen.”
Storing pecans away from air and light is crucial. Vacuum sealed bags or jars allow for the best storage. After properly storing nuts frozen, thawing and refreezing can occur repeatedly for a period of two years without loss of texture or flavor.
Test stored nuts before using them in recipes. Rancid pecans have a bitter and oily taste. A dark color may also be a characterizing factor of rancid pecans. Make sure to discard any rancid nuts, as rancidity is not reversible.