Saturday, January 22, 2011

Pine Nuts!

This post was inspired by some guy on Food Network, talking about 'organic' pine nuts. I yelled at the TV. (The Goob is always entertained when I do that.) By the end of this post, hopefully you'll understand why.

When I started researching this, I was surprised to find there were about ten species of pine trees around the world that produce seeds that are economically viable. Technically ALL pine trees have edible seeds (technically not nuts because they come from gymnosperms and not angiosperms... should I do another terminology post?) but only about ten produce seeds large enough to be worth the bother of harvesting.

In Europe it is the Stone Pine. It's naturalized all around the Mediterranean basin. It's thought they're originally native to the near east, but since they're so nummy, they've been transplanted all the heck over the place for a loooong time. According to what I read, stone pine shells have been found in archeological sites going back ten thousand years.

This is our baby:

These have been planted as far away as South Africa. Very popular.

Asia has several species of pine trees native to the area that are harvested. China leads the world in pine nut (SEED!) exports and the US imports about half of those.

And, in North America, we have the Pinyon tree. There are a couple-three species of those, and are pretty as well as producing lots of yummy goodness.

So, growing pine nuts. This is kind of amusing in light of the chef on Food Network.

You plant a tree and wait. That's about it. These pine trees do best above six thousand feet, and need some snow pack in summer to keep humidity high. They need happy conditions to be in the mood to produce the nuts. The cones start in spring, grow slooowly, go dormant over the winter, and then ripen the next summer.

There are two 'nuts' under each prong of the pine cone. In the fall, you collect the pine cones and put them in a burlap bag. Put them near (but not too near) a fire, or leave them in the sun for a couple days-weeks to dry out enough they're brittle. Then, high tech here, you beat the bag on a handy wall, rock, or tree. Then you separate the nuts from the smashed up cones. Et viola. Pine nuts. Seriously. That's how they do it. Honest. Quit laughing.

As one anthropologist pointed out in an article I read, this isn't farming. It's GATHERING. Damn if he wasn't right.

As I understand organic farming, this means ALL pine nuts are organic. There's no need to fertilize, spray for weeds, or anything else. You just pick them up when they're ready.

Because pine nuts (SEEDS!) are high in fat, they go rancid, fast. They keep best if left in the shell. Once shelled, use 'em up fast. You can see from the above woeful tale of how to 'harvest' these puppies, why they're kind of expensive.

Vegans and vegetarians love pine nuts due to the fat content. There have been reports of funky tastes in the mouth lasting days or weeks after eating a lot of pine nuts; research may have traced it down to one species of Chinese pine nuts. Scientists, foodies, and pine nut 'farmers' (GATHERERS!) are still arguing about it. Personally, I'd pay the few extra bucks for American.

Organic, of course. Har.


Anonymous said...

Wow. Very very interesting. It's amazing the breadth of knowledge one finds among knitting blogs!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad there are others who do the research when presented with a thought. Part of why I leave my laptop on and by my chair is so I can see what I can find in response to what I see on TV. You know, an actor you remember, but wait...did he die?
My verification word is 'goods' and that is what I find every time I read your blog!

Gracey is not my name.... said...

Interesting, the Hubs would enjoy this knowledge. When I was a kid, we had a set of encyclopedias. Anytime I had a question about something on TV, my dad would tell me to look it up. I still do it, but now I use the internet....and then I'll click on something else..and then click somewhere else. I just read the history of the Hoar family in Somerset England, cuz I clicked on something of interest...

s said...

Nice post. as justthreadtwiddling said, "I'm glad there are others who do the research when presented with a thought."
Im a biologist and I learned things from your post.

Ive followed your blog since 2005, took a break due to personal circumstances in 2008 2010. Back in early 2011.

Glad you are still writing and glad to hear you have moved back to the midwest and are out of military life.

Best to ya Samurai.

Barbara said...

Well, that does explain why they're so darned expensive. I wondered.

Organic seems to be a catchword these days for "I get to charge you double" so maybe the chef has a stake in an organic pine nut production facility (forest).

Roxie said...

I was reading how much of the honey we get in the store comes from China and is often diluted/augmented with corn syrup by the producers. Wonder if there's any way to doctor the pine nuts? Yep - buy American! I buy honey from a guy two miles away who grows an acre of clover just for his bees.

Galad said...

I was so excited to open the blog and see your pine nut post! I know, I'm weird. I had no idea about how they are gathered.

Count on you to keep me educated on such things :-)