A Sweet Family Legacy
By Jackie Sheckler Finch | Photography courtesy of The Pecan House
McHenry’s Pecan House began in McHenry, Miss., with three family recipes and now has a Gulfport location.
An avid candy maker and cook, Barbara Overstreet decided to take the challenge when her husband told her that “You can’t make a living selling candy.”
That was back in 1984. Today, Overstreet’s Pecan House candy shop in McHenry, Miss., is still going strong. Now owned by Overstreet’s daughter and son-in-law, Phyllis and Billy Shoemake, the inventory has since grown to include far more than Overstreet’s original three handmade pecan candies.
“We still use Mom’s original recipes and we still make the candy by hand,” Phyllis Shoemake says. “When I took over the store in 2000, Mom was still alive and involved with the business. She taught me and Billy to cook everything using her recipes. I still use the same method of test until it’s right.”
With the family’s long history in the pecan industry, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched that her mother would create delicious pecan recipes, Shoemake says. “Our family has always been in the pecan business. My grandfather, along with my dad, uncle, and later my brother, started a pecan ‘shed’ buying pecans from others, loading 18-wheel trailers, and selling to large companies.”
However, the pecan crop can be very unpredictable. “To stabilize the family income, Mom came up with the idea of The Pecan House,” Shoemake adds.
The building that houses The Pecan House has great family history behind it as well.
“The store was built by relatives using unclaimed wood from the Brown Miller Pickle factory,” Shoemake says. “When the factory closed, the family secured the old pickle vats, flooring, and more from the factory.”
Although her mother, father, brother, and uncle are now gone, the store they built survives. “Most of the store is original,” Shoemake says. “The inside walls had to be removed due to damage from Hurricane Katrina, but the rest is original.”
The family legacy also is continuing with the fourth generation of Overstreet’s descendants working in The Pecan House. The founder’s great-granddaughter Chelsey Caudill now makes those hand-dipped pecans using the same recipe and with the same care as Barbara Overstreet did.
So successful has the business been that the family opened another Pecan House in 2015 in Gulfport.
“We have a lot of customers in that area (coastal Mississippi) and we wanted to be a little more convenient for them,” Shoemake explains.
The Pecan House prides itself on using as many Mississippi pecans as possible just as the company founder did but, when there is a shortage of Mississippi pecans, nuts from other regions are used.
“The Mississippi crop has not been good for several years,” Shoemake says. “We have a broker that buys for us and sometimes he has to buy from other regions.”
Over the years, The Pecan House has added other delicacies and fun items. Today, in addition to pecans, shoppers will find fudge, pralines, cakes, and pies, along with sugar-free delicacies.
“Our sugar-free products are some of the best tasting,” Shoemake says. “The sugar-free products are more popular in the Gulfport location. So many people are diabetic. That is the reason for starting the line. We continually work on increasing the variety of products we offer. We now offer sugar-free pecan pie.”
Beautiful home décor pieces also have been added, many with a beach or farmhouse theme. Gift items, china, and lovely jewelry pieces also are stocked in the store.
The Pecan House sells online and ships anywhere, especially during the holidays to military personnel around the world who may be experiencing a bit of homesickness. “The farthest away we have shipped is probably to Singapore,” Shoemake says.
Shoemake lives about five minutes from the McHenry store and says she still enjoys making and eating the special recipes her mother created. “Mom came up with all the recipes and we still use her original recipes. She was a wonderful cook and had in mind what she wanted to start with.”
At the time the store began, Shoemake lived in Tennessee and said her mother would use her as a test sampler. “She sent several varieties of fruit cake for me to try,” Shoemake says. “She tested the recipes until she felt they were just right.”
Even today, Shoemake says she loves to savor Pecan House specialties and recall the care her mother put into every creation.
“I still eat our pecans and other stuff. I’ve been here 20 years and I’m still not tired of our products,” she says. “I am truly blessed by what my mother started.”