Pedigree is the record of ancestry that validates the background and history of the person or thing in question, and for pecan aficionados San Saba pecans hold a worthy pedigree, one that proves its worth to the world, and rightfully garnering San Saba pecans and Texas as the “Pecan Capital of the World.”
Areas outside of San Saba and the central Texas region, such as Mexico, Georgia even into the Carolinas make certain claims of contributing largely to the pecan industry, but they lack what San Saba is most proud of, Edmund E. Risien and the ‘Mother Pecan Tree,’ which led to the perfect nut.
Risien immigrated from England in1872 and ventured across the continent. When fate stopped him in San Saba divine intervention served him San Saba pecans, and he became fascinated. He eventually gave up his trade as a cabinetmaker and into the pecan business after organizing a contest in the region to find the perfect pecan. Risien chose a winner and negotiated with the entrant to buy the ’Mother Tree’ and the acreage surrounding it. His first introduction with the Mother Tree left Risien horrified. He found the tree producing fruit from a single branch, the branches along the top had been cropped by the previous owner in an effort to harvest the existing San Saba pecans.
Risien nurtured the tree back to health, and cultivated it to produce the best pecan varieties the world would taste. He accomplished this through pollination experiments of budding and grafting the Mother Tree with various male tree specimens. His San Saba pecan varieties ‘San Saba Improved,’ ‘Sovereign,’ ‘Onliwon,’ ‘Jersey’ and ‘Texas 60,’ were shared around the globe by such dignitaries of his time as President William McKinley, Queen Victoria and Lord Alfred Tennison.
Risien constructed a display of his San Saba pecans at the 1893 Chicago World Colombian Exposition. He arranged his pecans to emulate a cluster of grapes off the vine. Cereal magnate C.W. Post was impressed and was heard to exclaim, “Look at those Grape Nuts,” and a breakfast staple was born.
Risien’s efforts with the San Saba pecans turned the focus on the San Saba region. His nursery sold pecan tree varieties all over the world. Family farm operations started throughout the area, with harvest, shelling and distributing
San Saba pecans around the globe, invigorating the industry for so many families. Risien’s granddaughter Elsie Millican noted, “Granddaddy proved that money does grow on trees.” San Saba pecans, and the growth that came with it through the development of harvesting, shelling and processing led to giant strides in building the San Saba pecan as a brand. Equipment design and even labor laws, still exist today that can be linked to the success of Risien and the Mother Tree, and they impact the livelihood of workers around the world.
While Georgia and other areas profit greatly from the pecan, San Saba pecans are responsible for perfecting the nut, lifting up the brand and making pecans the year round staple they are today.