Here in central Oklahoma foraging for pecans can get very competitive. When nuts are available in fall and winter, it is the most preferred white-tailed deer food and may compose 50 percent or more of their diet. Approximately 450 pounds of acorns or other nuts (i.e. pecans) will meet fall and winter requirements for one deer per 20 acres.

Here in central Oklahoma foraging for pecans can get very competitive. When nuts are available in fall and winter, it is the most preferred white-tailed deer food and may compose 50 percent or more of their diet. Approximately 450 pounds of acorns or other nuts (i.e. pecans) will meet fall and winter requirements for one deer per 20 acres. Squirrels start snatching pecans as early as late July/early August and continue throughout harvest. They can eat or damage half a pound of pecans per day. Birds normally start their foraging at shuck split. Crows can be very detrimental to your pecan gathering as they normally travel in groups and can consume and damage half a pound to one pound of pecans per day per crow. Blue jays will consume about half as much as the crows. Other foragers that can affect your pecan harvest are raccoons, possums, mice, hogs and cattle.

 Furry four footed or the winged variety of critters aren’t the only ones in competition for pecans. Foragers of the human variety have to jump right in to share the wealth.

I can’t say it enough: I love, love, love pecans. For many years at 7:00am, my typical breakfast has been a cup of hot cappuccino and a hand full of pecans. I love pecans in pear bread, carrot cake (especially the cream cheese frosting), pear salad, millionaire pie, fresh apple cake; I love pecans in brownies, fudge, turtle candies, Martha Washington candies and most of all in—and I made these for the first time this year—pecan pralines. Absolutely heavenly.

In days gone by when my parents still dwelled upon Mother Earth I frequently enjoyed week-long visits with them on their farm in Van Buren, Arkansas. Daddy had a 4-wheeler that he called his “Hoss”. Weather permitting he could many times be found on “Hoss” roaming around his 170 acres, as well as several adjoining properties. In spring we picked poke salad, in summer, wild blackberries and in winter, of course, we picked up pecans. There was a huge old native pecan tree growing in a pasture a short distance beyond Daddy’s barn. Some years the grass underneath had been recently mowed and pecans were easy to find. Occasionally the grass would be grown up and made the gathering quite a chore; but whether we found a little or a lot, we always had a good time.

A few years ago, I started purchasing large paper shell pecans locally. Though really good—and I may be biased—they were not as good as Daddy’s little natives.

Last fall destiny came calling. I don’t know exactly how the subject of pecans arose between my grandson-in-law and his best friend. They socialize frequently and have children similar in age; four of the children are my great-granddaughters. Best Friend has several pecan trees on his acreage; Grandson-in Law may have mentioned how much his/our girls liked helping Nanny (me) crack and eat pecans. If I was guessing though I suspect the talk was about the fact that deer like to eat pecans; and how these two avid hunters could take advantage of the situation. Who knows?

Anyway, Best Friend informed Grandson-in Law that I was welcome to pick up pecans on his land. Soon after, Grandson-in-Law took me on an excursion to show me where the trees were located. Afterward, three or four times I gathered along the road; sometimes my girls came along to help. I soon had plenty of pecans to last all winter.

I was uplifted by Best Friend’s bigheartedness. I wanted to explain my personal connection in regard to pecan foraging as he had recently lost his own father to a tragic accident. The following is a summation of the note I sent in remembrance of my father; and Best Friend’s father—who upon leaving this world, passed down the care taking of the long held family farm to his only son.

Dear Best Friend,

Due to your generosity with your pecans, I feel like a little squirrel lately. Anytime I’m in my recliner I’m busily cracking and shelling; then it’s on to the vacuum sealer and the freezer. I have a blanket spread in front and to the side of my chair where I set small baskets of the varying sizes. I switch off to different pecan sizes to break the monotony. Every few days I take up the blanket, shake it outside then vacuum up whatever missed the blanket; it sounds like shrapnel flying. This sound reminds me of my father, Tom, who was an avid pecan “picker upper”. He had a huge pecan tree on his farm near Van Buren, Arkansas, where I grew up. Beside his recliner, underneath the edge of the sofa, he kept his nutcracker; it was in an aluminum pan that was part of an old double-sized ice tray. In his later years he and I would crawl around under his tree picking up pecans; they were the small natives and oh so good. In his spare time, sitting in his recliner he cracked and shelled them for the family’s use. Vacuuming around his chair we heard the familiar sound of flying shrapnel. Upon Daddy’s departure from this earth his nutcracker passed to me, his pecan-loving daughter. It now resides—in its old aluminum pan—beside my recliner, underneath a bookshelf. My girls are little nut crackers now. Hopefully one day they will tell their children and grandchildren about Great-great-Grandpa Tom, while using his nutcracker, passed down through the years.

Thank you ever so much for the pecans…and the memories.

Fast forward to the current year:

I had been anxiously awaiting pecan drop this fall. I thought as we’d had a couple of freezes, chances were favorable that there would be pecans on the ground. Hearing the chatter from local meteorologists with predictions of cold weather and freezing

precipitation to start this past Wednesday, I knew I’d better get on with my preliminary pecan foraging; time to check out this year’s situation.

December 3, 2013, Tuesday morning, a light breeze was blowing beneath a beautiful sunny sky.

9:00am, I began assembling the needed supplies: Half gallon insulated water jug filled with cool water (like Daddy always carried on his 4-wheeler)--dust mask, protection from air borne allergens--knee pads, bursitis in left knee--gardening gloves--retrieved orthotic devices(for fallen arches) from shoes and placed in lace-up leather work boots. Okay. I’ll need several sizes of gathering baskets. Check. Time to dress; I pulled on sturdy carpenter jeans, a long sleeved thermal shirt and a pair of warm socks. Into a basket goes, a T- shirt (should I get hot); already have a hooded sweatshirt in the truck (should I get cold). Hey, it’s Oklahoma. Work boots on, then loaded all the above essential paraphernalia into my most valuable piece of work equipment: The Trusty Ranger.

Let me just say for the record here: One has to be truly dedicated to the art of foraging to relinquish the mundane “purchase at the store” attitude.

I embarked on my foray and arrived at my destination at 10:00am. I spent a couple of hours gathering pecans without a lot to show for my effort; not as many pecans had fallen as I had anticipated. There was another spot on up the road a ways where I picked up several last year so away I went. This stop was completely unproductive; the grass underneath the tree had not been mowed this fall and was 3-4 feet tall. After ten minutes of searching I found one pecan. Well phooey! I figured I may as well go home….. Although I was told about another tree last year but never got around to checking it out; and since I was already in the area…Traveling a short distance up the road, then onto a good (secondary) road for a ways, I next turned onto—and I’m not sure this could actually be called a road so I’ll go with—a well-defined path. Trusty Ranger and I jostled along this treacherous trail for a bit --with tall grass crowding us from both sides; it wasn’t a long distance but neither was it a short distance—I’m not good at gauging distance. About the time that I began to consider the possibility of making a three point turn-around, we came upon an open meadow. Right smack in front of Trusty Ranger stood a mature pecan tree. Short grass grew underneath; and low and behold, a scattering of nice little native nuts on the ground. Oh joy! Taking basket in hand--still wearing my mask and knee pads--I spent another hour or so collecting nuts before deciding to call it a day.

Removing my “essential gear” and loading the full basket of nuts, I climbed aboard the Trusty Ranger and pointed her toward home. About half-way back to the good, not the main road, just gawking around and generally enjoying nature, something--on my left, way off in the distance--caught my attention. Said I to myself, “Is that the sound of crows—one of the worst pecan thieves on the face of the earth? Hold up Trusty Ranger! Yes it is; and they are congregated in and around what I do believe is another pecan tree.” Tired as I was, I contemplated leaving this one for another day; the forager in me had another idea. Thought my inner forager, “I’m right here. I’ll just investigate whether it’s worth coming back at a later date, when more pecans have fallen.”

With expectations low I grabbed a basket—my gardening gloves tucked within--and set off across a wide swath of very rough terrain covered in grass 3-5 feet tall. The ground wasn’t readily visible through the cover of tall grass so I had to pick my way carefully—thank you sturdy work boots--to avoid viewing this wild landscape from a supine position. Leaving the tall grass behind, I stepped out onto a vast open meadow planted with a winter forage crop. Hearing loud caws from the noisy interlopers, I glanced in their direction and got the distinct impression that somehow my destination tree had move farther away. I trekked across the meadow with a gentle breeze blowing and the sun just past its zenith. Approaching the drip line of the huge tree, much to my surprise I saw lots of pecans on the ground. Maybe the best I’d seen all day.

I cannot perform any task while stooping; I have to get down on my hands and knees. As I assumed this position, my left knee whispered, “Excuse me, where is my knee pad?” In an attempt to placate her I replied, “This will only take a minute; just want to see what’s here.”

Absorbed with gathering these gourmet goodies I heard, “I don’t want to be a nuisance but it’s been longer than a minute, more like fifteen.”

Lifting my left knee from the ground, attempting a semi-squat, I replied, “Better?”…No reply.

In the rush to fill my basket apparently my left knee drifted back to the hard ground. “Listen up!” I heard, “You’re gonna’ be sorry in the morning.”

Yanking the protesting joint upward, “Okay, Okay!” I began snatching pecans left and right. I couldn’t leave without filling my basket considering all I’d undergone for this foraging opportunity. Maneuvering about underneath the tree on my hands, right knee and left toes, I’m quite sure had there been a passerby they would have called 911, under the assumption that I was suffering some sort of convulsion or other medical emergency.

The murder of crows (and this is actually what a group of crows is sometimes called and I can see why) voiced their concern with, “Yeah, listen to the knee and beat it. You wanna get caught out here lookin’ like an idiot?”

Turning a deaf ear to the inharmonious jabbering and shifting my body into over-drive, I quickly filled my basket. Rising to my feet I looked down at the offending joint. “Are you happy now?” No reply. “Well are you!” Silence.

Full basket in hand I trudged back across the spacious meadow; entering the swath of tall grass, from behind me I heard the raucous sound of crow laughter. I’m quite sure I heard one feathered individual scream, “Be gone usurper; and if you know what’s good for you, don’t come back!”

Exiting the tall grass, I found the Trusty Ranger patiently awaiting my return; no whining, no pouting, no threats. After stowing my hard won bounty, I ensconced myself in the driver’s seat, wiped the sweat from my face with the hooded sweatshirt—retrieved from behind the seats. I took a long drink of cool water from my jug, gazed out across the tall grass, the meadow, to the murder of crows happily flitting about in the distant pecan tree, and muttered, “I’ll be back.”

I turned the key and Trust Ranger roared to life; gently patting her dashboard for a job well done I whispered, “Let’s go home.” 

As always, happy gardening,

Linda Workman Smith