Travel just 20 minutes southwest of I-435, and you will stumble upon a local pecan farm that looks like something right out of a storybook. Prothes Pecans in Paola, Kan. quickly transports visitors back to 1879 when Leland Prothes’ great-grandfather bought this 80-acre farm. Leland purchased the farm from family members in 1960, and that is where this pecan story really begins.
Pecans in North America date back to the Native Americans, who were believed to have pounded pecan kernels, added them to boiling water and used the mixture as a seasoning for food. During the winter months, the nuts were the main staple of their diet because there was little else available. For years, the popular nuts were called “Mississippi nuts” or “Illinois nuts” until the Native American name “pecans” gained widespread use. President Thomas Jefferson, a recognized horticulturist and food connoisseur, was fond of pecans and had trees imported from Louisiana for planting at Monticello.
It was a Louisiana slave named Antoine who was the first to successfully graft and cultivate pecan trees in 1846. And speaking of grafting, as Leland tells the story, in 1988, he was clearing a 20-acre pasture and noticed many young pecan trees growing alongside the other brush. That is when he decided to leave some and go to a grafting school being held in Paola. He attended the course and left with the scion wood to make the grafts and grafted more of the trees each year. Later, he planted another 40 acres of pecans and is now grafting these to the improved varieties. Can you imagine all of this just for a pecan tree? Now that is dedication and the true mark of a local artisan farmer.
Today, Leland Prothes has shakers that will clamp to the tree and shake the nuts to the ground, a harvester to gather the nuts, a cleaner to separate the nuts from the trash and several crackers to crack them. Prothes sells cracked pecans and halves, black walnut meats and container-grown pecan trees at the farm. The farm welcomes visits especially during The Miami County Farm Tours in May and this fall.
The nuts of the Prothes Pecans are rich with a buttery flavor. They can be eaten fresh or used in cooking. Just imagine a fresh local pecan pie this Thanksgiving!
Local pecans, local pie. Now that’s a LOCAVORE!
words by Jasper Mirabile, Jr.