67-County Alabama Garden Party: Lowndes County

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The Alabama honeysuckle border was inspired by an 18th century, Southern applique quilt. (left) PERFECT Toasted Pecans (right)

The Cullman Tribune is celebrating the Alabama Bicentennial (1819-2019) with statewide field reporting by Alabama Master Gardener/Botanical Artist Ben Johnson South. This year-long feature, “The 67-County Alabama Garden Party,” will spotlight different counties each week. Each county will get its own “quilt block,” along with a historical profile, and we’ll share a recipe specific to the area. At the end of the year, all 67 counties will be put in a book to commemorate the Bicentennial.

Lowndes County

Pecans are native to every county of Alabama, but most are sold in Lowndes County. It only takes seven years from planting a pecan sapling to have it produce nuts. What are you doing for the next seven years? Planting pecan trees would be a very good use of some of your time and would make you mounds of happy friends.

It often takes as long as a full 12 years for pecan trees to reach their full prime. However, after that you can sit on the porch for the next hundred years and shell pecans while you make yourself and many others happy.

Pecans make a lovely shade tree to look at and cool off under. Lowndes County pecan trees often grow to 70 feet tall and beyond. Pecan trees have 10-17-inch pinnately compound leaves and cast a dappled shade that allows for underplanting. The trees leaf in late spring and drop their leaves in the early fall.

Global warming is a concern many Alabama pecan growers have. Pecans are native to fertile riversides and creek bottoms. You want loamy soil that drains but also provides lots of water.

Ft. Deposit has been the home of Priester’s Pecans since they started selling Lowndes County produce at a service station in 1935. Pardon me for planting this pun, but for decades folks have gone nuts for Priester’s. I don’t know anybody worth knowing who drives to the Alabama Gulf and doesn’t stop in Lowndes County at Priester’s, whether going or returning or both. It would be like driving through Lynchburg, Tennessee and forgetting there’s a sour mash distillery in the vicinity. Priester’s provides only the freshest pecans from various nutteries in the American South.

Here are varieties of pecans that any Alabama grower should consider (Note: “scab resistance” is of paramount importance when growing pecans, and each of these are scab resistant):

KANZA—earliest maturing with quality smallish nuts

LAKOTA—medium-sized nuts

GAFFORD—good-sized nuts and quality

McMILLAN—good-sized nuts and quality

ELLIOT—small size and late-maturing

AMLING—good-sized nuts and quality

HUFFMAN—new University of Georgia release

AVALON—new University of Georgia release

Lowndes County pecans = happiness. Try this Alabama math problem: If you have 25 pecans and you eat 20 of them, what do you have? Uh, the answer is HAPPINESS.

Here are other positive and pleasurable ways PLANTS + PEOPLE come together in Lowndes County:

*LOWNDES COUNTY FARMERS’ MARKET- 653 State Highway 21 South, Hayneville, AL 36040; Wednesdays 7-11 a.m., Fridays 3-6 p.m., Saturdays 8-11 a.m.; open in June

*LOWNDES COUNTY FARMSTAND & U-PICK- MP’s Vegetables and Fruits, 4371 State Highway 21 North, Burkville, AL 36752; open July-November, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

*BEST PLACE IN LOWNDES COUNTY TO TAKE A VISITOR- Lowndes County coordinator for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Tana Shealey, suggests spending some quality time at the Lowndes Interpretive Center. This National Park Service site honors those who peacefully marched through the area on the historic Selma to Montgomery voting rights march for equal justice.

*LOWNDES COUNTY OKRA FESTIVAL- (Burkville) This annual celebration of “the pods of the gods” will be this Aug. 31. It offers a taste of Lowndes County farm produce, cultural arts, music and crafts.

*ROBERT F. HENRY LOCK AND DAM- On the Alabama River in northern Lowndes County, this is an essential destination for any birding trip. The natural, protected habitat features extensive grassy meadows that slope gently to the river. There is a copse of mature shade trees bisected by an off-road vehicle trail. The mix of habitats welcomes an enviable roster of birds throughout the year.

*CALICO FORT ARTS AND CRAFTS FESTIVAL- (Hayneville) April 2020 will mark the 50th anniversary of this annual event, one of the largest and most popular food, music, arts and crafts fests in Alabama.

*JAKE’S FISH CAMP- 125 Jake’s Landing Road, Lowndesboro, AL 36752, 334-263-1991. You can arrive by boat or land to enjoy delicious, locally-sourced food, LIVE music and lollygagging on the grassy banks of Pintlala Creek.

*DEEPWOODS by MARY BELL- 345 Commerce St., Hayneville, AL 36040, 334-548-5227. The owners call their cooking “Soul2SouthFood;” they use fresh ingredients and creative, healthy substitutes for traditional soul food dishes. Their motto “Food Becomes Flesh” and they aim to serve food that makes a positive impact on lives. DeepWoods is open sunrise to sundown every day except Saturday.

*PRIESTER’s PECANS- 80 Bishop Bottom Road, Fort Deposit, AL 36032, 334-227-8355. Part café, part candy factory with viewing area, part retail store, it’s open seven days a week from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. excluding major holidays.

*PLANTING AN IDEA- Lowndes County could be an ideal place to create an Alabama nuttery to celebrate all the nut-bearing trees of the world. Plant tourists would go “nuts” over this.

Y’ALL COME to Lowndes County on your 67-County Alabama Garden Party tour. Anybody who can’t find happiness exploring this part of Alabama is just plain “nuts.”

Many thanks to Tana Shealey, coordinator of the Lowndes County office of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) for sharing lots of information, suggestions and enthusiasm. If you have questions about planting pecans or anything else in this part of the state, ACES is the place to contact. Also, thank you to my sister-in-law, Laurie Johnson, who remembered my beloved mom, Miz Ruby, with her easy, oven-overnight PERFECT Toasted Pecans recipe.

Lowndes County – PERFECT Toasted Pecans

Each fall my father in-law harvested a bounty of fresh pecans from their trees and he worked hard to shell them for themselves or for gifts.  Everyone’s favorite holiday treats were the toasted, salted pecans that my mother in-law made.  And they were always perfect – great pecan flavor, not too dark, not too raw and with the perfect amount of salt.  I tried to duplicate them, using recipes I found elsewhere, and usually failed by getting them too burned or toasting all the flavor out of them.  Finally, I learned her secrets.  Don’t use butter and put them into a preheated oven, turn it off and forget about them.  Below is her recipe for the PERFECT toasted pecans.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. shelled pecan halves, preferably fresh (See note below if using bagged pecans from the store; they are typically less moist and need a lower temperature.)
  • Cooking spray
  • Coarse sea salt

Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 200F.  If your pecans are not fresh, but from a bag at the store, drop the temperature to 150F.
  • Spray a sheet pan lightly with cooking spray.
  • Spread pecan halves on pan and spray them lightly with cooking spray.
  • While moist with spray, liberally grind the sea salt over them.  Stir or shake the pan around to help distribute the salt.
  • Place into the preheated oven, turn it off immediately and FORGET ABOUT THEM until the oven is cool, or overnight. You might want to tape a note to your oven door to remind you or others to take them out before preheating for some other use (I learned this lesson the hard way!).

Also, check out Alabama Bicentennial: 200 ways to save Alabama for the next 200 years.

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Ben South