There will be pecan pie on the table for Thanksgiving dinner at Judy Mason’s house thanks to the campaign her friend Bob Myers waged against the squirrels who had taken up residence in the pecan tree in her front yard.
Myers and Mason spent days in her garage cracking the large, thin-shell pecans harvested from the tree that was a grocery store for squirrels until Myers devised a system of skirts and Vaseline-lathered poles.
Some say once you let the squirrels take over a pecan tree you’ll never be able to reclaim the fruit for human consumption, but don’t tell that to Myers, a Pacific resident who has a penchant for farming.
Mason had a beautiful tree in the front yard of her Indian Hills home that never received more from her than admiration of its well-formed shape. But when Myers came on the scene he immediately identified the tree as a pecan tree, an ingredient in his favorite dessert — chocolate chip cookies with nuts.
Mason had always made pecan pies for Thanksgiving, but she bought the pecans in bulk, not realizing that she had them in her front yard. As she paid more attention to the tree as her friendship with Myers blossomed, she noted that a lively population of squirrels seemed to live in the tree.
The first year of their friendship, Myers noted two things: The squirrels were picking off each pecan as it ripened and the well-shaped tree had many producing branches.
Myers devised a plan to reclaim the pecans. He constructed a plastic skirt made from rescued political signs around the trunk about 5 feet off the ground, using duct tape on both the top and bottom to create a tight seal that no squirrel could squeeze through.
The skirt worked at first, but as the heavy crop of pecans caused the limbs to sag closer to the ground the indigenous squirrels jumped onto low-lying branches and continued their harvest.
“You know a squirrel can jump four feet off the ground,” Mason said.
Myers took PVC pipe, resembling clothesline poles to lift the branches 6 feet or so high off the ground, but the athletic squirrels shimmied up the poles. He then constructed a little plastic skirt for each pole, similar to the one on the tree, also duct-taping it to the pole top and bottom, but the squirrels lept over the small skirts as though they weren’t there.
It was only when Myers slathered Vaseline on the lower section of each pole the tree was completely reclaimed for humans yielding about 5 gallons of shelled pecans each year.
The tree sits by itself so squirrels cannot jump from other trees into the pecan tree but, as it turns out, birds also like pecans.
“The crows swept down and picked off an occasional pecan,” Myers noted, “and a couple of woodpeckers have also found it. But the squirrels can’t get to the pecans anymore.”
Mason and Myers spent several days in her garage where they shelled the pecans, lay the nuts on a towel for a day then put them in ziplock freezer bags and freeze them. This year’s harvest, 5 gallons of shelled pecans, occurred just in time for the traditional pecan pie.
“They are large, like from the lower knuckle on your thumb to the end, and the shells are very thin so the nuts come out in perfect halves,” Mason said. “They’re very easy to shell.”
Mason’s specialty with pecans is chocolate chip cookies with nuts.
“I’ve made so many chocolate chip cookies in my life I can almost make one in my sleep,” she said.
Mason devised a strategy for freezing individual unbaked cookies. She makes a large batch of dough, which she places in the refrigerator until it firms up. She then rolls it into balls, the right size for cookies, freezes the balls and bakes two or three at a time.