The Pecan Capital of the World
People often ask, “Why is San Saba called “The Pecan Capital of the World?” The truth is San Saba holds a rich history that is deeply connected with the pecan industry. For generations, the pecan has been more than just a nut in this corner of the Lone Star State; it’s been a source of pride, commerce, and community. Generations of families have played a role in expanding the efforts of innovator Edmund Risien to grow an agricultural economy built on the pecan to something much bigger and brighter.
Chosen by Nature
San Saba may very well have been destined to become “The Pecan Capital of the World,” primarily due to the fertile soil and temperate climate of the region. San Saba provided an ideal environment for pecan trees to thrive, and some of the trees may date back to the era when Columbus came to America. Native pecan trees grew abundantly along the banks of the San Saba River, offering food and shade to early settlers. So pecans and their trees have been in San Saba County for a very long time.
Edmund Risien: A Visionary Entrepreneur
While pecans were plentiful in San Saba, it wasn’t until the late 1800s that pecans started to become a cash crop for the region. Edmund Risien, born in 1856, was a visionary entrepreneur with a keen understanding of pecan trees and their commercial potential. Risien was an English immigrant who founded the West Texas Pecan Nursery in 1888 after discovering the “Mother Pecan Tree” on his homestead. At the confluence of the Colorado and San Saba rivers, he set out an orchard of 600 trees, using pecan nuts as seed. Risien started experimenting with grafting techniques and artificially pollinated the mother tree for years, using pollen gathered from male blossoms around the region to produce improved pecan varieties. He waited 12-14 years for the trees to bear. Then, by a process of cross-pollination and selection, he developed such varieties as Onliwon, Squirrels Delight, San Saba Improved, and Western Schley. These new varieties of pecan revolutionized the industry and brought economic opportunity to San Saba. According to the Texas A&M Forest Service’s website, The “Mother Pecan Tree” is the source of more important varieties than any other pecan tree in the world.
A Multi-Generational Family Legacy
In 1909, Edmund and Elizabeth Risein’s daughter, Norma Risien, married Robert Oliver and the two made their home just a short distance across the river from her parents. They helped continue the family business by harvesting pecans and farming the land passed down to them. They raised their children to cherish the rich tradition that her parents established.
The family farm continued when their daughter, Elsie Oliver, married Winston Millican in 1938. Their strong ties to the community were evident in many ways. Elsie even brought the orchard to people’s doorsteps in the form of homemade pecan pies. She was well-known for cooking numerous pecan pies over the years and delivering them as welcome gifts to people who were new to the San Saba community. It was her way of introducing herself, extending a friendly hand, and sharing a piece of family history.
Commerce and Community
The pecan industry didn’t just bring prosperity to San Saba; it created a tight-knit community bonded by a shared passion for this humble nut. Local businesses flourished, from pecan shelling plants to gift shops selling pecan-related products. Pecan pies, pecan pralines, and pecan brittle became regional delicacies, drawing visitors from far and wide to savor the unique flavors of San Saba. Today, San Saba’s pecan industry continues to thrive, thanks to the enduring legacy of pioneers like Edmund Risien, The Oliver Family, and the Millican Family and the dedication of countless local growers and businesses like The Great San Saba Pecan Company, Alamo Pecan and Coffee Co., Millican Pecan, Bagley Pecans, Oliver Pecan Company, and Chase Pecan just to name a few. The town’s commitment to preserving its pecan heritage is evident in the San Saba River Nature Park, where visitors can explore the native pecan groves that started it all.
Risien’s contributions extended beyond horticulture. He played a vital role in organizing local pecan growers and establishing the West Texas Pecan Growers Association in 1921. This cooperative effort paved the way for standardized grading and marketing of San Saba pecans, solidifying the town’s reputation as the “Pecan Capital of the World.”
Texas pecan orchards produce millions of pounds of pecans annually, with the majority being sold both domestically and internationally. Pecans are not only a beloved snack and baking ingredient but also a valuable commodity in the global market. As such, the revenue generated from pecan sales in Texas supports countless jobs, from orchard workers to shelling plant employees and beyond. Additionally, the tourism industry in San Saba benefits from the pecan legacy, drawing visitors from all corners of the state and beyond to experience the “Pecan Capital of the World.”