[Originally posted December 8, 2010]
They’ve gone completely nuts in Cloutierville, LA!
“We talk nuts, we grow nuts, we crack nuts; we’re just plain nutty.”
That’s Julie Swanson’s joking way of describing her family’s business Natchitoches Pecans, Inc. in the heart of pecan country along old Highway 1 in central Louisiana.
Swanson, her husband, mother, brother and sister and their spouses own and operate the pecan orchard and retail outlet, Little Eva Pecan Store, in Cloutierville, LA., providing locals and visitors a variety of pecans during the fall season, the peak of pecan harvesting.
“We sell pecan products and items with Louisiana flair,” Swanson says. “We also have a cleaning business where people bring their pecans for us to clean.”
In addition to purchasing pecans, visitors can buy many different pecan products such as pecan meal, candied pecans and pecan oil. Also, on the menu at the Little Eva Pecan Store are a variety items unique to the sound and taste of the L-shaped state. Most all items can be purchased online or through mail-order year round.
“I grew up a farm girl. My family was always in farming, but we didn’t know the first thing about a pecan orchard when we bought part of the plantation. But since we’ve been on this journey, we’ve learned a lot,” Swanson says.
Natchitoches Pecans, Inc. began when Swanson and her family bought a portion of the original Little Eva Plantation when it was put up for sale in 1986. Little Eva was owned by Sterling C. Evans and Gus Wortham in the mid-part of the 20th century.
“Evans and Wortham were friends who would buy distressed properties, bring them back to life and sell them,” Swanson says.
According to Swanson, Evans, after completing research of his property which was originally Hidden Hill Plantation, named the property Little Eva after the character Evangeline in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Area folklore states that Stowe visited Hidden Hill Plantation.
“The pecan trees were planted in the 1950s,” Swanson notes. At one time the pecan orchard was one of the largest of its kind at approximately 10,000 acres.
However, the property was put up for sale in the 1970s and eventually broken up for sale again in 1986 when the Swanson’s placed an offer for approximately 450 acres. Swanson said even Elvis Presley was interested in the property in the 1970s, but apparently Evans was not impressed with the king of rock and roll’s plans for the beloved orchard.
“When the Taylor’s owned the property in the 1970s, they tore down the plantation’s original home that had been used as a hospital during the Civil War,” Swanson adds.
Even though their pecan business has been sweet, in 2005, the Swanson’s big warehouse, where they clean and process the pecans, was destroyed by fire; but neither destruction nor tough years have deterred the family from enjoying the nutty fruit of their labor.
“We just keep growing. Our mail-order business continues to grow a little every year,” she says.
“It’s been tough years, but some really good years. It’s funny, but no two years are anyway similar. That’s just the nature of the business.”
Little Eva Pecan store is located on Highway 1 in the small community of Cloutierville, a once thriving community along the famous Cane River in the plantation area of central Louisiana. During the peak pecan season from October to December, the store is open every day and then on Fridays and Saturdays during the rest of the year.
While visiting Little Eva, make a trip around the historical area of the Cane River to Melrose Plantation, one of the renowned plantation homes. The area is also home to the late American folk artist Clementine Hunter and late American novelist Kate Chopin. Hunter was born on Hidden Hill Plantation.
For more information about Little Eva Pecan Store, visit their website at www.natchitochespecans.com.
By Charla Jones 12/7/2010