You’ve no doubt heard the phrase, “As American as apple pie”, but what if we were to tell you that there’s really nothing American about apple pie at all? You see, apples have only been in America since the time of the early settlers and are actually native to Asia.

And apple pies? Well, they aren’t really all that American, either. As a matter of fact, apple pies have been around since at least the 14th century. Historians discovered a recipe for apple pie in England that dates back to 1381.

You want a nice American pie? Go with a pecan pie. Native Americans can tell you that Carya illinoinensis  (the Latin name of the pecan tree) were growing along the river basins of the central and southern United States of America long before the Europeans arrived.

When the Europeans did end up in North America, the Native Americans in the West shared the indigenous nut with fur traders who brought the pecan nuts back east with them and introduced them to Europe and the rest of the world soon after. It’s even common knowledge that our Founding Fathers seemed to know that there was something uniquely American about the pecan. Since then, pecans have become intertwined with the presidential history of the United States as recently as President Obama. With all of this in mind, let’s look at the history of the patriotic pecan.

The Founding Fathers

Thomas Jefferson was first introduced to the pecan while exploring the Mississippi basin. He became so enamored with them that he brought a bunch of them back with him, giving some to friends. George Washington was one of those friends, and it’s been said that Washington never roamed too far without his pockets lined with pecans. Both Washington and Jefferson would even plant pecan trees in their home gardens at Mount Vernon and Monticello, respectively.

“Once again, gentlemen, how many of you want Jefferson to bring pecans on his next trip to Philadelphia?”
Image: The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America by Armand-Dumaresq (c. 1873). Public Domain

Jefferson was certainly the most captivated by the “Illinois nut,” as they called the pecan back then. Back in 1787, the 44-year-old ambassador to France wrote a letter to colleagues in America asking them to send “two or three hundred Paccan (sic) nuts from the Western country . . . they should come as fresh as possible, and come best, I believe, in a box of sand.” An agronomist answered his call and sent the seeds of a wild pecan variety to Jefferson in France. Some of these trees are still growing in France over 230 years later.

What’s more, when President Jefferson reappointed a young William Henry Harrison as governor of the Indiana Territory in 1803, the future president of the United States sent Jefferson a barrel of Louisiana pecans to express his gratitude.

Old Hickory’s Pecan Tree

Natchez Trace State Park was once home to the world’s third-largest pecan tree.  As the legend goes, Wildersville, TN, native Sukey Morris was given a pecan by one of General Jackson’s men as they were returning home from the Battle of New Orleans in April of 1815.  He planted the pecan Natchez Trace in west-central Tennessee, and 143 years later, in 1958, it was measured to be 104 feet in height, 125 feet in crown spread, and 17 feet 8 inches in circumference of the trunk — and it was still growing!

By 1973 it was 106 feet in height, 136 feet in spread, and 18 feet 2 inches in circumference with its shade supposedly covering a whole acre of ground. It was so big, in fact, that the American Forestry Association declared it to be “The World’s Largest Pecan Tree.” Within a year, however, two pecan trees in Louisiana and Virginia stripped it of its title. It was then deemed the “Third Largest Pecan Tree in the World,” a title it held until it was chopped down in 2008 or 2009 after succumbing to rot and disease at nearly 200 years of age.

You can still visit it on Pecan Road in Natchez Trace State Park today, where it is now known as the “World’s Third Largest Pecan Tree Stump.”

Lincoln Wasn’t Much of a Foodie

Mary Todd Lincoln once said that Honest Abe wasn’t really into food and most of the time he “didn’t even want to eat, and could care less, what or when he ate. He could be satisfied with an apple or some cheese in his office.” However, it’s said that when he did feel like eating, Lincoln loved vanilla pecan pie. Here’s the recipe.

LBJ’s Pecan Orchard

To say that President Johnson was fond of his ranch is an understatement. The LBJ Ranch was where President Lyndon Baines Johnson was born, lived, died, and was buried. In fact, the ranch was often referred to as the Texas White House because he spent so much of his time there while he was President of the United States.

However, the LBJ Ranch wasn’t only home to the President and Lady Bird Johnson; it was also home to among other things, a variety of orchards including peaches, olives, and pecans. The LBJ ranch’s historic Pecan Orchard was planted during the 1947-1948 planting season. The orchard contains native and budded trees and a wide variety of pecans — including Schley, Burkett, Garner, San Saba Improved, and Desirable.

The LBJ Ranch. Love that roofline!
Image: Public Domain

As a result, the public is invited to gather one gallon of pecans per day from the Pecan Orchard every Saturday in November, providing they bring their own bucket.

Oh, and like most Southern gentlemen. Lyndon really liked a big serving of pecan pie once in a while. Here’s a recipe for Lady Bird’s pecan pie.

Lillian Carter’s Pecan Trees

When most of us think of Jimmy Carter, we think of the peanut farmer who became president. However, visitors to the Jimmy Carter National Historic Park in Plains, GA, might be surprised to see pecan trees lining the 39th president’s family farm. The trees were planted by Mrs. Lillian Gorder Carter, the president’s mom, to help supplement her income as a nurse.

The Carter family store where matriarch Lillian Carter sold her pecans.
Image: Dsdugan – Own work, CC0,

Both Jimmy and his father James Earl Carter, Sr. would help shell the delicious nuts, and the family would sell them at their country store. As a result, the Carter diet included plenty of pecan recipes alongside their peanuts. Here’s one of President Carter’s favorites — Pecan Orange Slaw.

The Obamas’ $100 Pecan Cookies

Back in 2008, the mother-in-law of President-Elect Barack Obama’s half-sister, Maya, mentioned to her colleague, Debbie Sweet, that she and her husband were going to drive to Chicago for Thanksgiving with the Obamas. Although the friend hinted that she would love to be invited, it didn’t look like that was going to happen, so Sweet thought, “If I can’t go, maybe I can send something.” She decided to make “$100 Pecan Cookies” — a recipe given to her by a friend who told her that the person who originally made the recipe had won $100 for the cookies, thus the name. Sweet thought the Obamas would love them. And they did.

You can make the same $100 Pecan cookies for your family, too, by following Sweet’s recipe here. We hear they’re sure to please everybody on both sides of the aisle.

Alright, Bo. Press conference is over. Let’s run back and have some more of those $100 pecan cookies.”
Image: jameb13 from Pixabay

Other Presidential Pecan Recipes

Ever since George Washington first pocketed pecans, nearly all of the presidents have enjoyed pecans in one way or another. Whether it’s in pies, salads, or simply eaten out of hand, here are some other recipes that helped the leaders of our nation appreciate the native nut.

●        It’s said that President Woodrow Wilson and his wife often enjoyed spicy roasted pecans. If you’d like to try it for yourself, here’s Mrs. Wilson’s recipe for Hot Peppered Nuts.

  • Both in the White House and in post-presidency Gettysburg residence, Mamie Eisenhower often made Ike his favorite sweet treat — Marble Cookies with chocolate and pecans.
  • Ronald Reagan’s favorite pie was this pecan pumpkin pie recipe.
  • Like his fellow Texan LBJ, George W. Bush also favored pecan pie. Here’s former first Lady Laura Bush’s recipe.

All this talk got you hungry for nuts? Then head over to stuckeys.com and browse through our fine selection of flavored pecans, cashews, and peanuts. While you’re there, grab a few of our world famous Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls and other great-tasting pecan candies. And if you’re stopping at Stuckey’s on a summer road trip, don’t forget that Stuckey’s merchandise always makes great souvenirs and gifts, so check out our wide variety of Stuckey’s branded t-shirts, caps, and coffee mugs, including our famous “Eat Here and Get Gas” tee.

And what’s an American road trip without a few Stuckey’s Pecan log rolls?

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