Along the west bank of the Mississippi River on the Vacherie, Louisiana, plantation known as Bon Séjour , a slave gardener named Antoine carefully grafts a superior wild pecan branch to a young sapling. Not much is known about Antoine except that which his owner, Jacques Telesphore Roman, noted when describing Antoine: “a Creole Negro gardener and expert grafter of pecan trees.”  And, indeed, he had a gift for grafting pecan trees as the results of that pecan tree he grafted in 1846 would eventually prove, for its twisting gray bark shot forth bright green leaves under which hid an exceptional fruit with a matchless flavor and extraordinary resilience. Thirty years after Antoine grafted that first pecan tree, his variety of pecan trees would be named the Centennial at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia making it the first cultivar, and Antoine the first cultivator in the industry.

The Bon Séjour plantation (also known as Oak Alley) where pecan farming really began.

Antoine would not be the first to recognize the superior taste of the pecans that grew there along the shores of the Mississippi, however. Back in 1787, the 44-year-old ambassador to France Thomas Jefferson, wrote a letter to 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 that were very closely-related to those which Antoine would later cultivate.

Thomas Jefferson thinking about how many Stuckey’s pecan log rolls he’ll be able to make with all of those pecan trees coming from America.

The seeds were shipped and planted in France by Jefferson himself as part of his 1787 goodwill tour. These trees that played a role in expanding the relationships between the U.S. and France would grow there for the next 230 years with very known about them except that they were American trees planted by a future president of the United States American and of the variety of pecan that was the creation of a slave gardener we only know by first name.

Mr. Bernard Dallison with one of the pecan seeds from an original Jefferson pecan planted in France.

However, it was the role that pecans played in Franco-American relations that retired French arborist Bernard Dalisson wanted to honor when he founded, Les pacaniers de Jefferson (Jefferson’s Pecans) in 2017.  France has, after all, been America’s oldest ally since France was the first to recognize America’s independence back at the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce on February 6, 1778. It was that treaty and Jefferson’s goodwill tour that led to the flood of generosity from American volunteers, women and men, civilians and soldiers that went to France and helped them fight for their freedom during WWI and WWII to fight for our freedom. Bernard wanted to celebrate that friendship on the centennial anniversary of the end of the WWI by planting the offspring of a living witness that’s been standing on French soil for over 234 years now – one of Jefferson’s pecan trees.

The particular tree that Mr. Dalisson had in mind is located at the Chateau Carbonnieux near the port city of Bordeaux. Known as the Jefferson Pecan the tree is 30 meters tall (nearly 100 feet) and 4.5 meters (15 feet) around and can be directly traced back to the seeds received by Thomas Jefferson in 1787.

The Jefferson pecan tree located at Chateau Carbonnieux near the port city of Bordeaux.

Supported by the American Embassy in France, Les pacaniers de Jefferson has planted 55 pecan trees in various places throughout France that have symbolic importance to Franco-American relationships ranging from the American Revolution up to World War II. In May 2019, a scientist sent by the Noble Research Institute in Oklahoma to research the 185- to 250-year-old trees, one of which was traced back to Thomas Jefferson, and another which was, interestingly enough, traced back to Paul Revere.  The organization hopes to reach the goal of having 70 pecan saplings planted by 2021 to commemorate the centennial of the American Music Conservatory at the Chateau de Fontainebleau outside Paris.

You don’t have to go to France to honor our president’s promotion of peace and pecans, however. Why, if Thomas Jefferson were still alive today, he’d only have to take a short road trip from Monticello to our Stuckey’s location in Ivor, Virginia, to enjoy the delicious taste of pecans found in our Stuckey’s pecan log roll, pecan divinity, and pecan pralines and other delicious pecan treats.

And talk about gifts for our friends in France – Old Tom is clever enough to know that Stuckey’s memorabilia always makes great gifts. Maybe Marie Antoinette would love our retro “Eat Here Get Gas” t-shirt. Or maybe @Louie16 would absolutely lose his head over one of our trucker hats. And even old Ben Franklin said Lafayette simply cannot get enough of those Parisian café’s, so a maybe a Slippy or mug (or both) for him to keep his caffeine rush going in between visits would be perfect.

Heck, knowing how much his friend George loves pecans, he’d probably go to stuckeys.com and send a few pecan log rolls up to Mount Vernon to satisfy his old revolutionary pal’s sweet tooth, as false at it may be. (Plus, there’s just something about that surprising hint of cherry in Stuckey’s pecan log rolls that George seems to love.)

Happy President’s Day from Stuckey’s

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