Episode Guide: Pecans in Georgia Img

Commercial pecan cultivation started in the 1840’s and grew through the 1880’s. By the 1950’s, Georgia had become the country’s leading producer of pecans and remains the largest pecan-producing state in the nation to date. Capri meets Charles and Shirley Sherrod, civil rights activists and founders of the New Communities Agricultural Co-Op who explain the important role of African-American farmers to the pecan industry in Georgia. Capri helps harvest pecans, tastes them right from the source and tries a unique twist on pecan pie.

The state of Georgia produces a third of the pecan produce of the United States. The commercial cultivation of this nut is a long held tradition in the southern half of the state. 

Pecans are a food that moves history. 

The word “pecan” was coined by the Algonquin people from their term “pacane,” which means a nut that needs to be cracked with a stone in the Algonquin language. Even the pecan’s name highlights the historical significance of this nut as a valuable food source in indigenous diets.

From a scientific perspective, pecans (Carya illinoinensis) are a species of hickory native to North America. The trees are large, deciduous, and can live and bear fruit for hundreds of years. Pecans are rich in monounsaturated fats, which are beneficial for heart health, and are also a good source of protein, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc. Pecan trees require a significant amount of water, especially during the growing season, to produce high-quality nuts. The nuts develop inside a green husk, which splits open at maturity to reveal the hard-shelled pecan inside.

Commercial pecan cultivation began in the 1840s and expanded significantly through the 1880s. By the 1950s, Georgia emerged as the leading producer of pecans in the United States, a title it continues to hold today. Georgia’s pecan industry benefits from the state’s favorable climate, which provides the long growing seasons and warm temperatures that pecan trees need to thrive. 

Georgian nut growers cultivate pecans in the highest quality, and have deep culinary traditions they love to share. (Check out more pecan history and facts here.)

Pecan Harvesting & Confectionaries

Brad Ellis has known pecans his entire life, and owns and operated his family’s estate Ellis Brothers Pecans. Established in 1944, this multi-generational, family-owned orchard and kitchen has been dedicated to producing high-quality pecans for nearly eight decades. Today, the business thrives on over 3,000 acres and features 15 different varieties of pecan trees, from which pecans are harvested and shipped worldwide. 

In addition to their expansive orchard, they operate a charming candy store and bakery. Here, visitors can indulge in traditional pecan log rolls, three varieties of pecan pie (traditional, chocolate, and bourbon), pecan pralines, and a delightful assortment of authentic southern treats such as honey cinnamon pecans and praline crunch. 

Pecans are harvested by a series of machines that shake, sweep, and gather the nuts. Ellis Brothers Pecans processes the harvest onsite, and then ships them off to happy customers around the planet. During harvest, pecan trees are shaken with a tractor, causing leaves and pecans to fall. A sweeper then rakes leaves, branches, and pecans into a row, followed by a vacuum that clears away debris, leaving the pecans. The final step involves a harvester machine with fingers that pick up the pecans. Post-harvest, pecans are taken to the packing shed still in their husks and stored in the freezer. When needed, they are shelled, sorted by size, and packed. Finally, they are either sent to market or returned to the freezer until sold.

Brad explains the harvesting process, and shows Capri the differences in the varieties grown in the orchard, along with a taste test. Great-grandma Irene’s candy kitchen lives on through her great-granddaughter Jena Ellis Wright. Jena shows Capri the many pecan products for sale at Irene’s Candy Kitchen, and then takes us behind the scenes for the production of Ellis Brothers delicious caramel-loaded pecan turtles and pralines. 

Black Farming and Land Ownership

The knowledge of pecan cultivation has the power to uplift communities as it contributes to a powerful vision of justice and the fight for land equality. No better is this exemplified than in the work of Shirley Sherrod, who has been fighting for Black land ownership for more than 50 years. She co-founded a nonprofit with her husband Charles, called New Communities. 

In 1968, inspired by Israel’s Moshav communities, Charles Sherrod and seven others envisioned a cooperative agricultural settlement in segregated Southwest Georgia. This led to the creation of New Communities Inc.  in 1969, securing 5,735 acres, making it the largest tract of land owned by Black Americans in the U.S. Despite setbacks and a 15-year battle, including foreclosure in 1985, their fighting spirit endured. In 2011, after winning a landmark lawsuit, New Communities purchased a 1,638-acre former plantation, which was originally part of one of Georgia’s largest slaveholder estates. Resora is a vibrant headquarters for New Communities that serves as a retreat, conference center, and working farm. As Shirley Sherrod envisioned, Resora is “a place where we could both farm the land and also nurture the minds of people.”

Having experienced racial violence in her family and childhood, Shirley Sherrod has devoted her life to fighting for civil rights, where she met her husband and has worked to change her community for the benefit of Black Georgians. New Communities strives to support Black farmers and Black land ownership in south Georgia. New Communities also helps with training, quality control, and research for local pecan farmers, working to improve the overall value and health of pecans for growers in the region. 

Capri learns about grove irrigation, which is essential to pecan growth, and harvests pecans at Resora, tasting them right from the source.

New Twist on Pecan Pie

Amanda Wilbanks, a University of Georgia graduate and creative entrepreneur, founded Southern Baked Pie Company (formerly Buttermilk Pie Company) in Gainesville, Georgia, in 2012. Inspired by family recipes and Southern charm, Amanda launched her business with an all-butter pie dough that quickly won over pie lovers.

Amanda’s journey from hobbyist to business owner began with a simple family recipe for an all-butter pie crust. Amanda’s pies became so popular, she invested $400 and turned her passion into Southern Baked Pie Company. Their award-winning caramel pecan pie, featuring Georgia pecans and a signature caramel layer, is a fan favorite. The company has been featured on Oprah’s Favorite Things, The Today Show, Southern Living Magazine, and Food Network, and named one of the best pie shops in America by Thrillist and Mashed. 

“Pies are the heart of the South,” Amanda tells Capri, and shows her how to make a unique pecan pie with a twist.

Caramel Pecan Pie

  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 2 sticks cold butter
  • ½ cup ice-cold water
  • 2 ½ cups Georgia pecans
  • 36 caramels, unwrapped
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • 3 eggs

Pie Crust:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Use a pastry blender to cut butter into flour until pea-sized chunks form.
  3. Add ice-cold water and blend until combined.
  4. Refrigerate dough for at least 1 hour.
  5. Roll out dough on parchment paper, place over a glass pie dish, roll edges to create a lip, and pleat the edge around the dish.

Caramel Sauce:

  1. In a saucepan over low heat, combine caramels, butter, and milk.
  2. Cook, stirring frequently, until smooth, about 10-15 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. Blend in eggs to the caramel sauce.


  1. Spread pecans evenly in the pie crust.
  2. Pour caramel sauce over the pecans.


  1. Bake in preheated oven until the crust is golden brown, 45-50 minutes.
  2. Let cool on a wire rack until filling is firm, about 15 minutes.

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