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Where In the U.S. do people say pee-kahn over pi-kahn? Joshua Katz answered your burning question by mapping Bert Vaux's dialect survey on regional variations in the continental United States. (Courtesy of Joshua Katz)

The Enigmatic Pecan: Why So Pricey, And How To Pronounce It?

by NPR Staff
Nov 8, 2013 (All Things Considered)

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Shelled pecans at the Navarro Pecan Co. in Corsicana, Texas. Pecan farmers say bad weather and demand from China are forcing prices up.

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The price of pecans is going up, up, up, which may mean that if you're planning a pecan pie for Thanksgiving, the time to buy them is now. The reasons behind that escalating price all come down to natural forces: supply and demand and weather.

China can't get enough pecans, according to fourth-generation pecan farmer Randy Hudson. His Hudson Pecan Co. in Ocilla, Ga., ships 80 to 90 percent of its pecans to China. And he suspects a total of 10 to 15 million pounds of pecans, or about 7 percent of U.S. production, will ship to China from the U.S. this year.

The Chinese, Hudson says, are hungry for all kinds of nuts. Their growing economy means they're more willing to pay higher prices, and that's raising prices everywhere.

The demand is also moving faster than the pecans can grow. "You don't just plant pecans; it takes 10 years" from start of cultivation to harvest, Hudson tells All Things Considered's Melissa Block.

Mixed with that, "the most significant thing is the weather," Hudson says. Southern Georgia, where many of the nation's pecan orchards are located, experienced two of the wettest springs and summers on record last year, "creating real issues with diseases."

Pecans are currently about $9 a pound in the U.S. But according to Forbes.com, by late November pecans may get up to $11, even $12 a pound, in grocery stores.

And speaking of pecans, is there a right way to say the word? (There are, after all, several different takes, including pee-kahn, pi-kahn and pee-kan.)

Not really, says Grant Barrett, co-host of A Way with Words, the public radio show about linguistics.

"It's always had a variety of pronunciations," Barrett tells Block. "We find it first 300 years ago in the journals of French and Spanish explorers in the New World. And from the very start spelling and pronunciation did not remain fixed."

A dialect survey on the word pecan showed in the U.S. almost 30 percent say pee-kahn, 21 percent say pi-kahn, while pee-can had only 13 percent.

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