pecan (pi-kahn, –kan, pee-kan) noun
Image: Peter Muka
Carya illinoinensis. A tall hickory tree, typically 70 to 100 feet, cultivated for its deep-brown, oval, smooth-shelled edible nuts, known as pecans. The pecan tree is native to the U.S., grows in over a dozen states and can also be found in Australia, Israel, Mexico, South America and South Africa. Over 80 percent of the crop is produced in the U.S. and American commercial propagation of pecans dates back to the 1880s.1
The word “pecan” is an Algonquin Native American word that was used to describe “all nuts requiring a stone to crack.” Indeed, pecans are not easy to shell and most for culinary uses are purchased ready-to-use. They most often come in halves or pieces. When buying halves, they are graded into sizes: mammoth, extra large, large, medium, small and midget. 1
The image above shows pecan halves on the left. In the center are chopped pecans and on the right are finely chopped pecans. Below is an image of pecans in their shell.
Image: California Pecan Growers
Pecans are used in many classic baked goods, such as pecan pie, pralines, spiced pecans, butter pecan ice cream and pecan sandie cookies.