Pecan show history reflects county's agricultural heritage

Nell Wiggins won first place in this year’s adult division of the pecan pie contest and John Hanke won first place in the youth division.

This year’s Milam County Pecan Show earlier this month sent 20 entries to the regional competition, AgriLfe Extension Agent Floyd Ingram reported.
Entries placing first and second advance to the regional contest.
Robert Schuetze won grand champion honors in all three divisions. His ‘Sioux’ variety entry won grand champion in the commercial division; his “other” variety entry and “native” variety entries won grand champion honors in the two native divisions. Schuetze also won reserve champion honors in the commercial division with his “Cheyenne” entry.
Winning reserve champion honors in the native divisions were Nick Albus, “Barton” variety entry, and Sherwook Lucko with a “native” variety entry.
In the accompanying pecan pie baking contest, winners in the adult division were Nell Wiggins, first place, Betty Backhaus, second place, and tying for third place were Bentley Hause and Micah Holcombe.
In the youth division, John Hanke won first place and Luke Holcombe won second place.
The Milam County Pecan Show began in 1959 as a project of the horticultural subcommittee of the county extension committee, according to a report in the Oct. 22, 1959 edition of The Cameron Herald.
Anton Anderle was chairman of the show committee and other members were Alvin Dusek, Henry Schattle Jr., E.J. Provosek, F.W. Vogelsang, August Gorecky, Howard Tumlinson, Mr. and Mrs. Hugo Linke, P.W. Davis and F.J. Karnowski. The early shows were co-sponsored by the Cameron Chamber of Commerce and the chamber’s president, Milton Schiller was also on the committee for the first show, held Dec. 3, 1959. Mrs. Clyde Hellman chaired the accompanying pecan food show.
Following the show, county agents J.D. Moore and Frances Hembree (now Johnson) reported great success, both in terms of entries and attendance. There were 54 entries in the pecan show and 52 entries in the pecan food show. Attendance was estimated at 400. The events were held under tents on the courthouse lawn.
According to coverage in the Herald, grand champion entry in the improved varieties was an “Eastern Schley” shown by Earl Thompson of Troy. Reserve champion was a “Success” entry shown by Ronald Kostroun, a 4-H Club member from Marak.
Champion native pecan entry was shown by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hanel of the Hoyte community. Reserve champion native was shown by Anton Anderle.
Among the first place winners in the foods show were Mrs. C.E. Grabener, cakes and candy; Mrs. George Fischer, pies; Mrs. L. L. Keen, yeast breads; Mrs. B.M. Charles, quick breads; and Mrs. Clyde Holliman, cookies.
The “home demonstration” agent Miss Hembree later married John Johnson. She served as county agent here from 1959 to 1962 and again in 1963. She previously served as an agent in Bell County. She and her family moved to Austin and returned here in 1989 following Mr. Johnson’s retirement from his furniture repair and refinishing business.
Mrs. Johnson remembers the early shows as major events on the courthouse square.
“The new automobile models were displayed by local dealers on the left side of the courthouse, where everyone walked past them to the show tents,” she said. The tents were set up on the right side of the courthouse and the long tables for the entries were made with planks set across saw horses.
“There were two divisions, native and improved varieties and the judging was serious business,” she said.
Each entrant brought a container of the best pecans from their crop - some were cracked and shelled and others were whole. Presented in pie tins, the pecans were measured and weighed both in whole and after shelling to determine the percentage of meat to the shell. These measurements were recorded. Then, the pecans were judged on color, flavor and overall appearance with results also recorded. “There were two judges at each station,” Mrs. Johnson said.
Planting pecan trees had long been promoted in Cameron, as both a beautification effort and as a crop, to help offset the financial losses suffered in the cotton industry. As early as 1921, there were reports of Cameron’s addition to the Central Texas pecan crop. According to the Nov. 10, 1921 edition of The Cameron Herald, Central Texas Produce Co. purchased three train car loads of pecans from local producers for $18,973. Pecans were selling that year for 27 cents a pound.
In 1927, the Milam County Poultry Show added a pecan exhibit for local growers with the first full pecan show held in 1959.
Mrs. Johnson recalled that the courthouse square and adjacent areas also served as the site for the annual livestock show with pens set up near the old jail, now a museum.
At that time, the county extension office was located in the basement area of the Post Office. In addition to Mrs. Johnson, the agents included J.D. Moore, Robert Hammond and Vivian R. Pittman, who worked with the agriculture education related groups at O.J. Thomas High School. In addition, county agent emeritus George Benzhaf, who retired in 1946 after 38 years as the county’s first extension agent, continued to come to the extension office to help out each day.
“He walked to the office from his home every day, even though he was close to 90 years old by that time,” Mrs. Johnson said. “He would help answer questions from farmers and sit in the office to answer the phone while we all took lunch or had to be out of the office for other reasons.”
The annual pecan show continued to grow through the decades with local growers often bringing home regional and state awards.