NEW ROADS, La. - If you're planning on enjoying a pecan pie for the holidays, there are plenty of Louisiana-grown pecans at the market. Many of those come from orchards along False River in Pointe Coupee Parish. FOX 8's Dave McNamara follows some of those homegrown pecans from the tree to the box at a century-old business in tonight's Heart of Louisiana.
The machine is like a giant crab claw locking around the trunks of pecan trees and shaking this year's crop to the ground.
"You grab the trees, depending on the size of the tree and the nuts in it, and you will actually shake the tree anywhere from three to five seconds," said shaker Jimmy Leonard.
Leonard will shake thousands of trees during the annual pecan harvest along False River.
"The trees are getting shaken more than you are, I promise you," Leonard said. "But after eight or nine hours a day in here, you're shaken up pretty bad."
Once the pecans are on the ground, another machine that acts like a giant sweeper scoops up the harvest.
"You want to get them out all at one time," said Lester Bergeron Jr., owner of Bergeron Pecan Company. "In the olden days, they used to just take a cane pole and climb up in the tree and knock them out."
Bergeron is a third-generation pecan grower and owner of the only pecan shelling plant in Louisiana. The business was started by his grandfather.
"In 1910 he started," Bergeron said. "He saw that there was a need for pecans, and he started buying them."
Bergeron's small general store near New Roads turned into a thriving pecan business that has survived storms, the Great Depression and two world wars. Back when Bergeron's grandfather opened his first store, he would allow the locals to use pecans from their trees to pay for goods in his store.
"They would shell them, and he would pay them so much for it, and then they would buy food or groceries or whatever they wanted with it, so it was kind of like bartering," Bergeron said.
Today, the hand shelling is replaced by machines. The pecans arrive in sacks weighing well over 1,000 pounds. They are sorted according to size.
"Like a size nine, which is measured by the girth around, which is used for like an ice cream topper," said operator Dee Kauffman. "They go to like a size 16, which can be used for anything."
The pecans are washed and dried, then their shells are cracked. And after a lot of tumbling and shaking, the nut meat is separated from the broken shells. The pecans are washed again and dried, the small pieces separated from the halves.
And human hands perform a final quality check. The shelling continues around-the-clock through harvest season.
"In a 24-hour day, we can usually run through about 40,000 pounds of pecans," Bergeron said.
Bergeron pecans are boxed and shipped across the country.
"It's very special, and I really enjoy doing it," Bergeron said. "Been doing it all my life. Wouldn't know what else to do."
And that's the way it's been for more than 100 years, through three generations of a family pecan business.