Tucker Pecan Company: A Family Business Three Generations Strong
Once spring arrives, pecan shellers across the South can finally sit down and take their boots off. The native nut is harvested in the fall and then in high demand, as it is gobbled up in syrupy pies, crunchy pralines and chewy turtle candies during the holidays.
For Tucker Pecan Company in Montgomery—which has been shelling and selling pecans for more than 60 years—the finish line arrives when the dandelions bloom. “We’ll shell until the end of March and have everything we need for the whole year,” says David Little, the company’s president. Tradition, however, never rests.
Tucker Pecan got its start in 1952 at a curbside grocery stand operated by Monroe Tucker. While he sold seasonal produce, it was the locally-harvested, in-shell pecans that consistently drew customers to downtown Montgomery throughout the fall and winter.
Tucker’s son Cecil was in the trucking industry, and on his travels across the southeast transporting pecans, he repeatedly got requests for another product: already-shelled pecans. Seizing the opportunity to grow the business, Cecil bought shelling machinery from a plant in Louisiana and brought it to Montgomery, creating the Tucker Pecans shelling plant.
The family began buying up pecans from neighboring counties and states, cracking them in the appropriately-named “cracker” machine and then separating the nuts from the shells in a vibrating “sheller” device. Today, Tucker Pecan does it much the same way, using many of the original pieces of machinery and sourcing its nuts from orchards in Alabama and Georgia.
“For us, it’s about the quality of an Alabama pecan,” Little says. “Pecans from the southeast taste brighter, are prettier and have a different flavor than those grown in other parts of the country. We keep it close to home and buy local, and our customers like that Alabama flavor that they’re used to.”
Today, Tucker Pecan shells 120,000 pounds of pecans a year for wholesale buyers. But the company’s vice president, Leslie Tucker, still knows many of their customers by name. Granddaughter of the company’s founder, she likes to maintain some old-school practices such as buying backyard nuts from locals with pecan trees. Or the facility can do all the laborious work—cracking and shelling them—and hand them back over for 25 cents per pound.
Some 20 years back, Cecil expanded the business to include roasted and salted pecans. Soon enough, customers began asking whether Tucker Pecan made candies. They didn’t, but “…you never say no!” Little says. “We started playing with different recipes, and just by trial and error came up with our favorites.”
In their on-site candy-making kitchen, they experiment with sweet and savory creations. They dip pecans in chocolate, glaze them with honey, dust them with cinnamon, bake them into fudge, roll them onto marshmallows and drizzle them with caramel. Everything is made to-order in small batches. The confections can be bought at the Tucker Pecan retail store, which is right in front of the shelling facility, or ordered online.
While the Tucker Pecan of today is a large, multi-faceted company, the most important ingredient is still the quality. They bring in locally-grown Alabama pecans, process them in small batches to draw out the best flavors and create delicious candied- and flavored-pecans using their own family recipes—something they intend to do for generations to come.
Tucker Pecan Company: 350 North McDonough St., Montgomery; 334-262-4470; tuckerpecan.com