Gardeners' Dirt: Christmas pecan treats - shop local and shop small
By Sara Meyer - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
Dec. 19, 2013 at 6:19 a.m.
Whether you pronounce the word pecan as PUH-kahn, puh-KAHN or PEE-can, it's the nut of the only true native tree in North America used in a myriad ways throughout Texas and the U.S. today.
Some people are lucky enough to have productive pecan trees in their yards, but many people do not. And that's where the Cuero Pecan House can help. The pecan nut is enjoyed by many right from the shell, in many recipes or by dipping in chocolate, hot spices or cinnamon.
Decline because of drought
Texas ranks behind Georgia and New Mexico in pecan production. Because of the five-year drought in much of Texas, pecan production is decreasing.
The commercial producers of pecans must have 200 or more frost-free days to produce a crop. Pecan trees are susceptible to a number of foliage, fruit and root diseases such as pecan scab, fungal cotton root rot and crown gall.
Pecan production, benefits
With 67,000 acres planted in pecan trees in Texas, producers need $2,000 per acre to establish a pecan orchard, which does not include the cost of land, irrigation or any special needs. However, native pecan groves can be found in areas across Texas and are often harvested when a satisfactory crop is produced. Native pecan trees and improved varieties can be found in most of the state's river bottoms.
Pecans have several health benefits. They are high in unsaturated fat and contain more than 19 vitamins, including vitamins A, B and E. One ounce of pecans equals the daily recommended intake of fiber. The pecan nut also is rich in age-defying antioxidants - and who would say no to that?
There are several pecan houses in the Crossroads, but none with the variety of pecan products as the Cuero Pecan House.
Opened in the early 1960s by J.F. Elder, individual producers brought their pecans to the shop to sell or to crack. Wayne Wolf, a new owner 40 years later, added pecan gift boxes to the shop. In 2001, Annette and Erwin (Junior) Rath purchased the shop and expanded the inventory again once Mary Beth Finney became a partner in 2006.
Finney and the Raths built a commercial kitchen to locally produce the many pecan treats in addition to buying and selling or cracking hundreds of pounds of pecans each season.
The sole owners now, the Raths include several different varieties of pecans in their gift baskets, such as Pawnees, Shawnees, Choctaws and Forkert, which was developed by Charles Forkert in the 1930s. The Forkert nut has a thin shell with outstanding nut quality. The Desirable variety, one of the most widely grown since the 1920s, has also been available in bulk and is easy to shell out, with high quality and taste.
If the shopper has particular requests for gift baskets, the Raths and their sales team are able to create whatever the customer desires and ship wherever - even though the drought "has been devastating," said Annette Rath. This last year, Cuero Pecan House shipped to 47 different states and two countries.
The elves in the Cuero Pecan House kitchen can produce pecans covered in chocolate - white and dark - orange sugar, hot and spicy, cinnamon sugar or sugar free.
Pecans with more
For those who have a sweet tooth, pecan caramel clusters, Turkey Tracks or Texas White Trash, the No. 1 seller, might satisfy your craving. Try the pecan pie bars, pecan or coconut tarts or the cowgirl and cowboy cookies might satisfy the cookie monster in you.
Special desserts and corporate gifts
If you need that special dessert, check out the pies (pecan, almond joy, buttermilk), cakes (Italian creme, carrot or triple chocolate) or candy made daily. The Raths provide custom labels for their corporate customers with a custom box produced in San Antonio.
A Go Texan business
Growth over the years is due to their good employees and getting the freshest ingredients for each of their products, Annette Rath said. She is proud of the fact that she tries to buy local, and that as a Go Texan business, she offers Texas products, thus supporting Texas farmers.
The drive to the pecan house in Cuero is short from anywhere in the Crossroads area. Just be sure you have enough room in your vehicle to handle your selections of cracked pecans, gift baskets or a bag of Texas pecan trash for yourself.
The Cuero Pecan House is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays.
Visit cueropecanhouse.com to place your order. And remember, however you say pecan, it's all good - so enjoy.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.