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Celebrating Pecans

(credit: Phran Novelli)

(credit: Phran Novelli)

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By Phran Novelli

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - February gives you lots of reasons to celebrate pecans.

Carya illinoinensis are native to the US, very tasty, plus full of antioxidants to keep your heart healthy.

For Mardis Gras, you may find pecans hidden in a King Cake as a prize marker. And sugared pecans called pralines – supposedly named for a French Marshal Plessis-Praslin, who courted women with similar sweet nutty treats – make a nice Valentine’s gift.

Planted by Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in the 1770′s, pecans have been a boon to the US economy for a long time.

Today, 80 percent of pecans eaten worldwide still grow in America. That success, from cultivars with larger, sweeter, easier-to-peel nuts, is thanks largely to the work of an African-American slave gardener known to history only as ‘Antoine,’ whose superior grafted tree was named ‘Centennial’ after winning ‘Best Pecan’ at the 1876 Exposition right here in Philadelphia.