Hardshell and gobble, gobble! Pecans and turkeys in my family

In central Texas, for as long as I can remember, pecans and turkeys have been a mainstay harvest source for my family clan:  Morris, Parks, McRorey, Millican, Gray, Hollingshead.

Millican Pecan Co., San Saba, Texas

The Millican family business, stretching back to the nineteenth century, provided pecans for Queen Victoria and Alfred Lord Tennyson. The queen and Lord Tennyson were an integral part of the customer base for many years. My grandfather and grandmother took long bamboo poles and thrashed pecans along the Colorado and San Saba Rivers. On one occasion my grandfather lost his high school ring while thrashing and never found it. Someone will unearth it one day and see the graduation date at about 1917-1918, and think it unfortunate, yet quaint, the ring was lost.

Before mechanical pecan shellers, my step-father and uncles about Thanksgiving and Christmas had stained fingers, like charred wood, from cracking and peeling pecans.  In older years, a package of shelled pecans was always included with Christmas gifts and the nuts were minced upon for days thereafter.  As I put a pecan in my mouth, I reflected upon the labor tended, my step-father cracking pecans in front of the radio or television in the evenings.  I knew hard shell from soft shell pecans and sought the soft shell to crack — didn’t we all?

The McRorey family — Floyd, Lennie, John R. and Joycelyn — raised turkeys for the Thanksgiving table on a grand scale with thousands fed and sped to market before the holidays.  The turkey business was good for the McRoreys and when I stayed with them I drove the tractor as grain was unloaded in the feed bins.  I was not the best of drivers, but I meant well.  I learned much from my Uncle Floyd.

My mother hunted wild turkey.  On one occasion in Brown County (Brownwood, Texas, the county seat), she bagged the first turkey of the season.  With a .22 caliber rifle she took her kill that season.  She arose before daylight in the morning and placed herself behind a hunter’s blind on my uncle’s ranch near Brookesmith, along the creek, and waited patiently for the flock.  Ofttimes, she merely watched the wildlife, counting the flock or observing deer in the pasture.  For many years after she won the first-turkey-taken prize, as I accompanied her on errands around town, she was asked: Are you going to get the first turkey this year, Gywn?  What rifle do shoot turkey with?  Where do you hunt?

I am one and two generations removed from a family clan that thrashed pecans, raised turkeys and lived off the produce of the soil, harvesting and consuming nature’s fecundity.  I have only lightly touched those activities, but I am aware, deeply so, that when I eat pecan pie today I see the bamboo poles of thrashing in the rafters of the barn, and when I see the breast meat of turkey upon my plate I hear the gobble-gobble of Uncle Floyd’s turkeys along the Cherokee Creek in San Saba County.  I am truly thankful for for the produce of the soil and the hands that have tended the harvest and taught me lessons about nature and all that dwells therein.

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18 Comments

Filed under Pecan, Turkey

18 responses to “Hardshell and gobble, gobble! Pecans and turkeys in my family

  1. Hello Jack!
    That’s a very exciting story about your family – and about the pecans and the turkeys. Your mother sounds like a great personality.
    I looked at the family link. I love the pecan taste. Gosh! there are many different varieties of pecan pies and chocolate pecans and I don’t know what. Delicious, I never dreamed that there was so much. I only know this Wiener Pecan I buy in the week-end.
    I like the gobble gobble of the turkeys. My grandma’s neighbour in the country had a turkey farm, and I remember this funny gobble gobble.
    And just imagine that queen Victoria and Lord Alfred Tennyson were erating pecans and turkey from your family’s firm. Maybe he was writing some of the “Idyls of the King” after a good meal! And imagine Victoria sitting there in her high lofted Buckingham Castle, eating pecans and finding the soft ones!

    It’s thanksgiving tonight isn’t it?
    I wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving!
    Grethe ´)

    • I was not aware of the pecan connection with the queen until today when I composed the post. Yes, it is Thanksgiving. I hope your followers have found your great site. Chocolate and pecans is hard to beat.

  2. This is so neat, Jack – celebrate your ancestors solid contributions to the world. Knowing what I do about you from your blog, not surprising these accomplishments. Ah the working hands you describe. What hands can show- your elders’ stained with their work. And your mom’s abilities – so neat to hear when women of that generation joined in the jobs usually for men. Heard on NPR the story from down further south on the Rio Grande they are dressing Sandhills – the more plentiful Grus Americanus I think – and the report was to encourage hunters. We have a lot of wild turkeys in the valley, too.
    Happy Thanksgiving, and bravo to your honoring the old ways – close to the land.

    • I thought you might focus on the hands. Your hands and your friends create so much that is visible. Your murals last. My writing will for a time, but not like your art work. Wild turkeys over there? No way. Oh, I do believe you. Just surprised.

  3. It’s such a great thing to live where your roots are and to appreciate the things the family did. Sad that so many today miss out on that!

    Happy thanksgiving, Jack!

    • I do live close by. Bittersweet, for it is close by the landscapes I saw and grew up in and the memories are jaded and brittle. But the more I go back and see and live about the land I knew as a boy, the less the pain becomes and I see the long view: the lay of the land with the families that make it beautiful today with vineyards and orchards bearing fruit for all seasons. Yet, I still smell the wood burning, the kerosene of lamps in my Uncle Nathan’s home at Christmas.

  4. Kay

    Jack, so many things I have learned about our family from you. And from a different perspective. Never knew Floyd and Lennie, but was better acquainted with the San Saba Morris clan and the pecan orchards and the Bend family who operated the telehone exchange. One of my memories is of Uncle Nay and Aunt Blanche and spending the night(s) on a pallet on the floor in their house heated only by a fireplace/wood stove. Tell us your memories about that branch of the family. Sam and I will always remember and be grateful of the love and care that Gywn and J.W. took to help my Daddy continue to be independent and mentally active in his later yrs. Enjoy all your blogs so much. Your admiring cousin Kay.

    • Your father was a father to me. I shall always remember his sayings and his putting me to work on his ranch when I needed employment and guidance as a young man needs, but does not know he needs. Thanks, cousin, I will write of Uncle Nathan and Blanche. One of the posts I have in draft is of Uncle Nathan and his fiddle at the Bend schoolhouse one cold winter’s day. Happy Thanksgiving, cousin!

  5. Donnie Reno

    I remember doing some pecan thrashing myself in San Angelo when I was a kid. My Daddy would play golf at the Santa Fe Golf course in the park and I would rattle the pecan trees along the Concho River running through the town. I ate more than I carried home and never seemed to get tired of eating those delicious nuts. Later around 13 yrs of age, my brother, step father and I planted 5 pecan trees in our back yard and harvested those for a few years before I left home for the service. Progress of road construction in that location took our home away for the freeway but left the trees for a few years. Every time I returned to San Angelo I would go by and see how they were doing and remember those days with pride of that accomplishment and contribution to the beauty of the median in that area of the new road. They are now gone for good, the median has been filled in with more lanes and the trees are only in my memories. Thanks for the reminder of times gone by.

    • Hi, Donnie: What a great remembrance you have. I like your phrase, “rattle the pecan trees,” for that is exactly! how it sounds. Those were long bamboo poles and the pecans would come tumbling down. I am so sorry those trees of yours had to go. I’m not so sure about progress anymore when beautiful trees are cut. Thanks, Donnie. Please say hello to Bobbie for me.

  6. Very interesting post. Is there a pecan stuffing used in Texas for Thanksgiving? Seems natural given the two occur naturally.
    Life in central Texas seems grand!

    • Bill, I think there is a stuffing for turkey with pecans. I will check on it. Chestnuts find their way in, so I am sure there is a pecan stuffing with cornbread. Without even looking, I would say, yes! Delicious.

  7. I’ve seen pecan thrashing with poles only once. I was driving from Victoria to Houston early in the 1970s, and what appeared to be a family was hard at work in the Colorado River bottoms near Wharton. I was so new to Texas I didn’t know what they were doing – I turned around and went back, and was given my first lesson in how to harvest the hardy pecan!

    I still prefer the natives to the larger, thinner-shelled varieties. There’s a county road near Comfort that has a series of old trees only a few feet from the road – no fences, no ditch, and owners whose only guideline is “first come, first served”! The nuts are so hard to shell, but the taste is indescribable.

    These days, I content myself with nuts from a family-run operation in Georgia, where I can get their natives shipped at a reasonable price.
    When the harvest comes in, usually late October for them, I bag and freeze my year’s supply like a demented squirrel.

    As you can tell, I’m more excited about pecans than turkeys. The historical aspects of your post are fascinating – I’d never imagined the Victorians were fans of the nut. I never imagined they’d ever tasted them, for that matter. Thus do our horizons expand!

  8. Mary Browning

    Do you have hard shell pecans for sale?

    Mary Browning

    Mlb7@atlanticbb.net

    (Miami Beach, FL)

  9. Pingback: The Wild Turkey So Much More Than Thanksgiving Dinner

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