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.
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.
- Pecan Jam: A San Saba Celebration of Texas Wine and Pecan-Filled Foods (vintagetexas.com)