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Pronunciation of pecan

POSTED: January 2, 2013 4:00 a.m.

Pecans are a personal holiday season favorite of mine.

My grandmother has been selling bags of pecans for several years as a Christmas fundraiser for her church, and she always puts away a few bags for me to enjoy when I visit.

Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners would not be complete without pecan pies.

Pecans are tree-borne nuts that are indigenous to North America. Their native range is around the Mississippi River valley and stretches from northern Mexico up to Illinois.

They are extremely healthy, packed with antioxidants, plant sterols, ‘good' fats, vitamin E, and protein. Most folks agree that pecans are tasty, but one question remains: How do you correctly pronounce ‘pecan'- ‘PEE-can' or ‘pu-KAHN'?

For some insight into this debate I turned to Dr. Lenny Wells, UGA Pecan Production Specialist. He is the leading pecan research resource in the highest-producing region of the highest-producing state in the highest-producing country in the world - South Georgia, USA.

If one person should be able to give us a definite answer on proper ‘pecan' pronunciation, Dr. Wells would be him.

His answer: It's a toss-up.

Lenny, who grew up in South Georgia, grew up saying ‘PEE-can.'

However, both ‘PEE-can' and ‘pu-KAHN' are used by residents in the southern portion of our state. In fact, Wells states that most folks where pecans are produced say ‘pu-KAHN.'

While researching for an upcoming book on the history of pecans, Wells discovered reports that back in the 1920s the Southeastern Pecan Growers Association tasked a committee to once-and-for-all solve the pronunciation debate.

The committee decided that ‘PEE-can' was the proper way to say it. Problem solved then, right?

In further research, Wells found that early European explorers encountered the Native Americans referring to the nut as a ‘pu-KAHN.'

The local Indians used the word ‘pecan' to describe "a nut that requires a stone to crack."

I guess if they made up the word then we should pronounce it their way, right? I'm not so sure. Think about how many little towns here in the U.S. whose names have shifted in pronunciation from their original namesake (e.g. Cairo, GA- pronounced ‘KAY-ro').

There is also an ‘old saying' that differentiates the pronunciation of ‘pecan' based on the market price of the nut. Pecans that bring a price of between $2 and $3 per pound are termed ‘pu-KAHNs'. Pecans selling for less than $2 per pound are to be referred to as ‘PEE-cans.'

Recent conditions of good crop quality, high foreign demand and high selling prices means that many Georgians may need to switch to ‘pu-KAHN' for the foreseeable future.

If a leading pecan production specialist, researcher and historian can't tell us for sure how to say ‘pecan,' I'm not sure we will ever have a definitive answer.

If nothing else, I hope this has given you a different dinner conversation topic other than politics.

Clark MacAllister is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706) 265-2442.

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