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MIKE KEELER: “Puh-KAHN,” or “PEE-CAN” – You Make The Call!

As we hopefully near the end of the pandemic, and the world is warming back up, it feels like we might be putting some of our polarized nastiness behind us.

Were it not for a nutty national argument. I refer, of course, to our long squabble over pecans. I mean – c’mon! – we can all agree that the pecan is a noble American. Pecans have been here for a very long time. Native Americans gathered and ate them extensively, and brewed an alcoholic beverage called Powcohicora, from which we get the word “hickory.” Early American colonists loved them; both Washington and Jefferson had wild pecan groves. It took a long time for the nut to be domesticated; Georgians began planting the first groves of “improved” pecans in the 1880’s, Texans followed in the 1910’s. Pecans are the most significant American nut, and today the United States produces about 90% of all pecans worldwide.

So how come, with such a national treasure, we keep arguing over how to pronounce it? Is a pecan a “Puh-KAHN,” or is a pecan a “PEE-CAN”?

I wanted to know, so I visited the website of the National Pecan Association, which provided…nothing. No position whatsoever on how to pronounce pecan. (You can only imagine it’s a pretty hot topic at the Association, if they can’t even address it on the website…)

Undeterred, I consulted the almighty Google. And found multiple sources that explained the word “pecan” comes from the French “pacane,” which in turn comes from the Illinois word “pakani,” meaning a nut that requires a stone to break. That sounded pretty definitive. And then you throw in the common joke, told by southerners, that you eat a “Puh-KAHN” but you keep a “PEE-CAN” under your bed so you don’t have to go to the outhouse, and you have a solid argument. Case closed: “Puh-KAHN” it is.

But then, stupidly, I clicked on a link to an old video from the Food Network. And there she was: Paula Dean, southern food expert, who was born in Albany GA and lived most of her life in Savannah GA. She was pulling together all the ingredients for something delicious. A dish made of pecans, corn syrup, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla. A true southern classic. And then she said it: Yep, Paula was putting together a “PEE-CAN” pie.

Dang. Back to square one.

Looking for inspiration, I decided to whip up her recipe. I went to the store. Bought all the ingredients. Put it all together. Threw it in the oven. Pulled it out and waited patiently for it to cool down. Cut myself a piece. And took a bite.

And it was then that I realized that the pronunciation doesn’t matter a lick.

My fellow Americans. Pecans are for eating, they are not for saying.

Mike Keeler

– Mike Keeler

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