A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from December 10, 2006
Pecan Capital of the World (San Saba); World’s Largest Pecan (Seguin)

Texas declared the pecan as the official state tree in 1919. Many areas of Texas and Oklahoma have competed for the title of “Pecan Capital.”

San Saba has been called the “Pecan Capital of the World” since at least 1965. Edmund Reisen pioneered the scientific growing of pecans in the area in the late 19th century.

Sequin declared itself “Home of the World’s Largest Pecan” since 1962 and also “Pecan Capital of Texas,” but a sculpture in Brunswick, Missouri is now the “world’s largest pecan.”


Austin Chronicle
HOME: NOVEMBER 1, 2002: COLUMNS
Day Trips
BY GERALD E. MCLEOD
(...)
Evidence suggests that pecans may have originated in Texas along the San Saba River. Fossilized nuts have been found in the area. Native Americans called the San Saba “the river of nuts,” and it had nothing to do with the local residents.

Pecan trees grow in just about every corner of the state, with 70% of the state’s counties claiming at least one commercial orchard. When settlers came to Texas, pecan trees were so plentiful that they were chopped down for wood and land to plant cotton.

By 1900, the pecan tree was in trouble across the state. If it hadn’t been for a couple of horticulturists working independently to increase the commercial viability of the tree, it might have gone the way of the horned toad.

In northern Central Texas, J.H. Burkett’s sons found a pecan that was bigger and thinner than the usual nuts. After a search, they found the tree and grafted buds to seedlings. By the 1930s the Burkett papershell pecan was highly prized. The original tree still stands on the north side of I-20, one-half mile east of FM880, near the Eastland-Callahan county line.

About the same time, an Englishman named Edward Risien was traveling through Texas on his way to California. Along the river in San Saba he noticed the difference in the fruit between pecan trees. Risien stayed a while and experimented with different trees. The result was the San Saba Desirable, and San Saba now claims title to the “Pecan Capital of the World.” Both trees led to the development of even better varieties of pecan trees.

Proclaimed the state tree by the Legislature in 1919, the pecan tree produces a bumper crop every other year. Even though Texas produced 70 million pounds of pecans in 2001, it still lags behind Georgia. Larry Newkirk says that the 2002 harvest won’t be as big as last year, “but it will be excellent quality.”

Roadside America
Far to the southwest, in Seguin, Texas, another nut claims to be World’s Largest Pecan. The giant pecan that sits in front of the Seguin, TX, city hall was the brainchild of a dentist, who wanted to put his plastering skills to civic use. Erected in 1962, the pecan is five feet long and 2 1/2 feet wide, and weighs approximately 1000 pounds. It was dedicated to Cabeza de Vaca, a Spanish explorer who was held captive on the Guadalupe, known then as the ‘River of Nuts,’ for ten years. He thrived on a diet of local pecans. Seguin began billing itself as “Home of the World’s Largest Pecan, “ a title it held for twenty years.

So Brunswick’s mighty goober clenches the official title, but for how long? Seguin’s puny replica has the backing of an entire town with apparently little else going for it: the city motto has remained “Home of the World’s Largest Pecan,” regardless of how many postcards are mailed from Brunswick to Seguin’s Chamber of Commerce. Brunswick’s Pecan, hefty though it may be, is in a lightly traveled part of north-central Missouri, outside of town and off by itself.

It’s time for Seguin to build a bigger Pecan—or for Brunswick to adopt Mad Hammer as the school mascot and kick Seguin in the .... well, you know. 

Texas Twisted
Life is simple in Seguin. The streets are perpendicular. The people are friendly. A blackboard outside a restaurant reads simply, “Special: Fish.” Where else would one expect to find the largest monument to such an unassuming food as the pecan? Well, in Missouri, actually, where a nut more than twice as large as Seguin’s reigns as truly the world’s largest. But, Seguin’s pecan held the title for twenty years. Can’t knock that.

The Seguin pecan measures approximately 5 feet, 2 inches long by 2 feet, 2 inches wide. It’s dedicated to Cabeza de Vaca, the Spanish explorer who was held prisoner on the nearby Guadalupe River in the early 1500s and, incidentally, whose name means “cow’s head.” A plaque below the pecan, erected in commemoration to “the first recorded contribution to the pecan literature,” reads: 

Hill Country of Texas: Seguin
SEGUIN
“Pecan Capital Of Texas” Located on IH10, 30 miles east of San Antonio, Seguin is noted for its pecan harvest and home to “True Women” author Janice Woods-Windle. 

Texas Escapes
Seguin, Tejas: the town famed author Sandra Cisneros (who lives in San Antonio) describes as having “[a] nice sterling ring to it,” like “[t]he tinkle of money” has quite a unique downtown tourist attraction. Poised atop a concrete pedestal in the middle of the courthouse’s lawn rests a larger-than-life sculpture celebrating one of the town’s native crops: the pecan.

Mmmm-hmmmm. That’s right. Pecan are very much a staple fare of Texan cuisine. From pecan pancakes to pecan pies, pecan patties to pecan-crusted catfish, pecans reign supreme as a hearty native addition to any dish. Texas’ 36th legislature proclaimed in 1919 that the pecan tree be the official state tree of Texas. And the 77th legislature (2001) continued the praise by declaring the pecan the official “health nut” of the state.

Handbook of Texas Online
SAN SABA COUNTY. San Saba County (H-14, H-15) is in Central Texas in the Llano Basin region. Its largest city and county seat, San Saba, is ninety miles northwest of Austin and 110 miles southwest of Waco. The geographic center of the county is at 31°10’ north latitude and 99°41’ west longitude. San Saba County covers 1,136 square miles and has an elevation of 1,100 to 1,800 feet. Mineral resources include dolomite, limestone, natural gas, and industrial sand and gravel. North of the San Saba River the terrain varies from steep to rolling. South of the river it varies from flat with deep local dissection to slightly hilly. Soil is composed of shallow, stony clays and sandy loam; vegetation consists primarily of oak, mesquite, and cedar, with occasional cacti and bluestem and gramma grasses. Pecan trees are also found in abundance along the Colorado and San Saba rivers. Primary streams include Richland, Wallace, Simpson, Rough, Wilbarger, Brady, and Cherokee creeks. Indigenous wildlife includes deer, javelinas, coyotes, bobcats, and turkeys. The temperature ranges from an average low of 34° F in January to an average high of 96° in July. Rainfall averages 26.19 inches, and the growing season is 227 days.
(...)
Peaches were produced in significant numbers after 1900; in 1920, 28,274 bushels were harvested. Pecans, already in natural abundance, also emerged as an important crop, largely because of the work of Edmund E. Riesen, an Englishman who moved to San Saba County in 1874 and made improvement of the native nuts his life’s work. Riesen is credited for laying the groundwork for the pecan industry that led San Saba County to proclaim itself Pecan Capital of the World.

Handbook of Texas Online
SAN SABA, TEXAS. San Saba, the county seat of San Saba County, is on U.S. Highway 190 eighty-seven miles northwest of Austin in eastern San Saba County. It took root on the agricultural frontier in the 1850s and developed rapidly as the political and commercial center of San Saba County. In 1855 ranchers and cotton growers first settled the banks of the San Saba River, from which the settlement took its name.
(...)
San Saba calls itself the “Pecan Capital of the World.” In the mid-1970s local concerns manufactured pecan-harvesting and livestock-loading equipment, and processors prepared meat, pecans, and poultry feed for shipment. The production of construction materials was also significant. Tourism-especially hunting and fishing-also became important. In 1990 the population of San Saba was 2,626.

Home of San Saba Texas
SAN SABA COUNTY
Known as the Pecan Capital of the World and located on the northern edge of the Edwards Plateau on the middle course of the Colorado River and near the geographic center of the State, the county contains 1,122 square miles and a 1980 census of 5,84l people. Consisting primarily of rolling, wooded hills, the county is bisected by the San Saba River with the Colorado River running along its northern and eastern borders. The area’s economy is chiefly agriculturally based with cattle, sheep, goats, swine, and turkey raising of major significance in addition to a pecan production of from two to five million pounds annually. The county is also a major producer of building stone and is known throughout the State as a leading hunting area

Texas Monthly’s Hwy. 16S Road Trip
Texas Monthly’s Hwy. 16S Road Trip
by Patricia Sharpe
(...)
As I continued north the towns dwindled in size. San Saba is bigger than some but still quiet. I had a decent burger and some fine homemade vanilla ice cream with little chunks of peach cobbler in it at Ma and Pa’s Diner, then hunted up the Oliver Pecan Company to buy a bag of pecans (it may be a hanging offense not to, given that San Saba is, you guessed it, the Pecan Capital of Texas). 

San Angelo Standard-Times
5/6/02
Historic San Saba is ‘paradise’ of flowing water
By Ross McSwain

SAN SABA — This Central Texas town prides itself in being the “Pecan Capital of Texas,” but perhaps it should change its motto to “Central Texas Waterland” since San Saba County has more than 500 miles of running rivers, streams, creeks and springs.

Despite the present drought and other dry spells from the past, the county and its many small communities have faired pretty well since the first settlers came into the area before the Civil War.

New York Times
FARE OF THE COUNTRY; A Texas Town Devoted to the Pecan in All Its Forms
By REGINA SCHRAMBLING;
Published: February 14, 1993 (Pg. XX6)

IN my first three hours in San Saba, Tex., the self-proclaimed Pecan Capital of the World, I learned there are two sure ways for an outsider to show ignorance. The first is to order a Lone Star instead of a Budweiser. The second, far more serious, is to say the word PEE-can.

My friend and I got that abrupt lesson at the Capshaw Cattle Company, the steakhouse-cum-club outside town that’s the only place to get a drink under any label in mostly dry San Saba county in central Texas. The straight-talking owner, Kay Capshaw, settled down at our table immediately after hearing us ask for the Easterners’ brew and soon set us straight on peh-CONS. These are more than just a nut in San Saba and in Texas, which will outproduce even Georgia this year with 55 million pounds.

Getting pecans straight, in fact, consumed the better part of a week in this tiny town where half a dozen specialize in the nuts—shelled and whole, in pralines and under chocolate, plain or flavored with everything from amaretto to hickory smoke. What I buy at a gourmet food store in Manhattan from a single bin goes by one name and comes in one shape and size. In Texas, the nuts are classified as either natives or papershells (or hybrids, or budded) and then broken down into subclasses with romantic Indian names like Kiowa and Pawnee or mad-botanist monikers like San Saba Improved or Moneymakers. With their shapes ranging from perfectly round to elongated and oval, with sizes from filbert tiny to as big as a Brazil nut, it’s hard to tell the pecans without a score card.

Even cowboys get confused. In the Oliver Pecan Company’s shop one afternoon, I overheard a big, burly man in an important white hat asking the clerk bagging his order: “Whoa! Did I say two pounds of Wichita? I meant Cheyenne.”

And he was lucky he didn’t get an argument. Apparently nowhere among the local shops is it possible to buy even half a pound of pecans without debating the merits of the four to eight other varieties for sale. In San Saba, population 2,626, everyone’s an expert.

San Saba—three and a half hours from Dallas and two hours from Austin—is justifiably picky about pecans. It has been since an English cabinetmaker named E. E. Risien stopped there on the way to San Francisco in the late 1800’s and grew fascinated with the native nut trees flourishing along the San Saba and Colorado Rivers wending through the county. He settled there and pioneered breeding techniques to produce pecans with the oily rich flavor of the indigenous nuts but without the usual iron-clad shells.

Even before the botanists got involved, San Saba was a pecan oasis. Buddy Adams, owner of the local shelling plant San Saba Pecans, told me of reading an account of Texas Rangers who camped along the local river not just because it was rich in black bear, deer and wild turkey but also because “in half a day they could pick enough pecans to last the troops the whole winter.” Half a dozen other people recounted the tale of Cabeza de Vaca, the Spanish nobleman kidnapped by Indians in the 1500’s who survived on a high-pecan diet.

Google Groups: alt.agriculture.misc
From:  John Roberts
Date:  Fri, Aug 20 1993 10:06 am

I grew up in pecan country in Texas.  San Saba claims to be the pecan capital of the US.  The USDA mans a Pecan Genetics and Improvement Research laboratory in Brownwood Texas.  They may be a source for more information.

12 November 1899, New York Times, pg. 26:
AUSTIN, Texas, Nov. 11.—Texas is the greatest pecan nut growing State in the Union, two-thirds of the pecans marketed coming from here.

19 March 1919, Galveston (TX) Daily News, pg. 4, col. 3:
No. 317: To fix the pecan tree as the official tree of the state of Texas.

7 April 1953, Galveston (TX) Daily News, “Oklahoma Is Declared World’s ‘Pecan Capital,’” pg. 3, col. 3:
OKLAHOMA CITY, April 6—UP—The entire State of Oklahoma was designated “Pecan Capital of the World” by the Oklahoma House Monday after partisans couldn’t agree whether the City of Okemah or the County of Lincoln deserved the honor.

4 December 1965, Austin (TX) American-Statesman, pg. 8, col. 2:
Saturday’s program in San Saba, “the pecan capital of the world,” will include foods made from pecans and the sale of pecans.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Sunday, December 10, 2006 • Permalink