That’s a very interesting question, reader Ali. In fact Mrs. Pastry brought a big bag of fresh-picked pecans home with her when she went to Mexico around Halloween. We made a pie out of them and I have to say they did make a difference. Fresh as they were they had more flavor than any pecans I’d ever eaten, the meats were also softer than other raw pecans I’ve found in stores. The down side is that we had to crack the nuts and pick out the nutmeats ourselves, and that took quite a while, plus most of them emerged from the shells broken in pieces. Nutmeat picking isn’t a core competency here at Joe Pastry World Headquarters. In the end I’m not sure whether all the extra effort was really worth it once the meats were baked into a pie, since there were so many other flavors competing with them. However if you’re so inclined Ali I say: go for it.
It’s interesting to note that very early pecan pies — the milk-and-egg custard variety — generally called for the raw pecans to be boiled in the milk before the filling was assembled, which would have made them quite soft indeed. It might be fun to make one of these proto-pecan meringue pies one of these days just to see what they were like.