For many pecan connoisseurs, and others who love the taste of pecans, the question is not “to be or not to be” as found in Hamlet by William Shakespeare, but rather Pee-KAHNS or pee-CANS? This is the question that has yet to be answered, and can cause a ruckus when family members gather during the holidays, or when ordering your favorite ice-cream.
To get to the bottom of the correct pronunciation of the word pecan, Joshua Katz, a doctoral student at NCSU asked this question and found the answer in a recent study. This study actually identified 4 pronunciations of the word pecan; “pee-KAHN”, “pick-AHN”, “PEE-can”, and “PEE-kahn”. Other pronunciations that were identified, but not used for this study were “Pih-KAHN” and “puh-KAHN”.
Pecan trees are the only major nut tree that grows naturally in North America. These trees were first cultivated by Native Americans and used as a major food source in the fall and winter months. The origin of the word pecan is Native American and has an Algonquin origin which meaning is defined as “a nut requiring a stone to crack”. Pecans were discovered by settlers in the 16th century growing in the central and eastern parts of the US, and in the river valleys of Mexico in the colonial period. Once the new world settlers developed a taste for pecans, orchards were planted from New York to the Gulf Coast.
Today, pecans are grown commercially in 14 states from North Carolina southward through the Gulf States to California. The leading producers are Georgia, New Mexico, and Texas, which produce over ¾ of all the commercially produced pecans in the US. However, growing interest in our area of North Carolina have found many new growers that are establishing orchards and producing their own pecans or pecan candies. To find a local grower near you, search www.buyncpecans.com.
So, which is the correct pronunciation? Katz found in his study that the correct pronunciation depends on where you are geographically located within the US. The upper Midwest areas of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin pronounce the word “PEE-kahn” and is the smallest geographical area. The second smallest geographical area is Louisiana, South Alabama, Eastern Texas, Southern Missouri, and Oklahoma, which pronounce the word “pick-AHN”. The second largest geographical area is the upper New England states and eastern seaboard states from Maine to South Carolina. This area skirts the eastern coastline and pronounces the word “PEE-can”. The largest geographical area, and most widely used pronunciation is “pee-KAHN”. This area covers most of the United States from Florida through the heartland to the Westcoast.
If you’d like to learn more about how to grow and maintain your pecan trees, the Sampson County Cooperative Extension Service is offering a class on pecans Thursday, July 20th at 6 p.m. at the Sampson Extension Center, 93 Agriculture Place, Clinton. This class is geared toward homeowners who would like to make their pecan trees more productive. Registration is $5. Secure your spot in this class by calling 910-592-7161.
Brad Hardison is an Agricultural Extension Agent specializing in horticulture. Contact Brad by calling the Sampson County Extension Center at 910-592-7161 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.