Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Thompson Family Pecan Farm in Southern Utah

Thompson Family Pecan Farm in Hurricane, Utah.
A couple of years ago, I saw the sign for the Thompson Family Pecan Farm when my family was vacationing at the Sand Hollow recreation are near Hurricane. 
I was curious, so when I knew I'd be in Southern Utah in March, I called the owner, Tim Thompson, for an interview.  I wrote a column about the farm in this week's Standard-Examiner  -- http://www.hersutah.com/story/ah-nuts-utah-s-dixie-home-thompson-family-pecan-farm.  

Utah isn't well known for raising nuts — at least, not the edible kind. But in pioneer times, the Mormon settlers called the area "Dixie" because of its warm climate. They tried to make a go of typical Southern crops such as cotton, silkworms, grapes and pecans.  I think the cotton fields died out a long time ago, but a few pecans trees are still growing in yards in Washington County. Pecans generally thrive in the Southern states because of the warm temperatures and long growing season.

Pecan trees were originally brought to Washington County by Mormon missionaries who had been to the southern United States, Thompson said. “There are pecan trees in the South that are over 400 years old.” 
Pecan trees at the Thompson's farm in Hurricane, Utah.
“This little corner of Washington County has the right climate for pecans,” he said. “It’s a little too hot in St. George, as the trees are stressed by the heat. But we’re at 3,000-foot elevation here, so it’s not as hot.”
The 206 pecan trees on the five-acre farm were already there when Tim and his wife, Lea, bought it 26 years ago. Each tree produces 50-70 pounds of nuts each year. 
After planting, Thompson said, it takes about 15 years for the trees to reach their full production level, but you get smaller crops in between.
“They take a lot of maintenance,” he added. “They need a specialized fertilizer program, and a micro-nutrient spray program. We have moisture gauges in the ground that tell us how much water to put on. And there’s pruning to do in the winter. There’s always something to do. But, I enjoy working outside.”
Tim Thompson sells his pecans at the farm in Hurricane.
The pecans are harvested in early winter, using a tree shaker to drop the nuts.
“The actual harvest, if you include everything, takes about a month,” Thompson said.
Shelling the pecans involves six machines, he said.
Thompson's six kids all worked on the farm, helping raise watermelon, cantaloupe and tomatoes as well as the pecans.
“The kids are all college-educated now and not interested in farming,” Thompson observed. “They will probably sell the place when I’m dead.”
The nuts are sold at the farm and by telephone or mail order. On the afternoon that I visited the store, several people had stopped in to buy bags of them. The price reflects the amount of effort that goes into raising them. Pecan halves are $8.51 per pound; pieces are $8.42 per pound.
“I don’t advertise, but I always manage to sell out every year,” he said. “We keep them in freezer storage from the time they are shelled, so they’re absolutely more fresh than what you would get in a grocery store. There’s no comparison.”
You can order them by phone, 435-635-4921, or by mail at 2012 S. Flora Tech 79-3, Hurricane, UT 84737.

On a trip to New Orleans, I learned to make pralines, which are a popular local treat. Pralines aren’t too hard to make at home. If they turn too crumbly, use them as an ice cream topping and call it pralines ’n’ cream.
Pecan Pralines
 1 pound light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups coarsely broken pecans
1 cup heavy whipping cream
In a 4-quart heavy saucepan, combine all of the above ingredients. Stir over medium-high heat and bring to a slight rolling boil. Cook until mixture reaches 240 degrees (about 232 degrees for most Utah altitudes) on a candy thermometer.
Remove from heat and allow to cool 5 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, beat vigorously until mixture begins to thicken and the mixture loses its gloss. (The color will change distinctly). Quickly drop by a tablespoon onto sheets of parchment paper that has been lightly sprayed with Pam spray. Allow to set. This should take about 20 minutes or more.
To vary the flavors, add the following to the pot in the beginning of the recipe:
Chocolate pralines: 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Orange: 2 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur
Coconut: Omit pecans and add 1 cup shredded coconut.
Peanut butter/chocolate: Omit pecans and use 1/2 cup chocolate chips and 1/2 cup peanut butter
— Chiqui Collier, New Orleans Cooking Experience cooking school

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