Monday, October 26, 2009

Desert Destination: Pinyon Pine Nut Picking

2009 has turned out to be a good year for pinyon pine nuts in our area. Many of the pinyon pine trees (Pinus monophylla) are loaded with cones. This species of pine tree grows throughout most of Nevada and into parts of Utah and California. Another species, Colorado pinyon (Pinus edulis), also produces pine nuts and is found in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. (Click here to see maps and more info on these two trees.)

Pine nuts fall out of mature pine cones and can then be easily gathered. Even Desert Boy quickly got the hang of it. You can either pick up individual seeds from the ground or get pine cones and pry the nuts out of them. The second way can leave your hands covered with sap. Up to 25 pounds of pine nuts per person are allowed to be taken on federal lands.

Businesses also can bid on certain areas for commercial pine nut picking, and they use a slightly different technique, described in this Utah extension office PDF file.

Pinyon pine nuts have been an important food source in this area for thousands of years. A pine nut is about 10% protein, 23% fat, and 54% carbohydrate. It contains 20 amino acids and is rich in thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin A, and niacin.

In the photo above, you can see an old pine cone next to one from this year, with seeds still in it.

Desert Boy enjoyed picking up pine nuts, although he had to be taught to distinguish them from rabbit scat, which is about the same size, although a different color, shape, and texture.

We found a few trees just loaded with pine nuts, and since we only wanted a small amount (they are kind of a pain to shell), we were content after about 45 minutes of picking.

Daddy likes eating them raw.

Desert Boy observed and gave it a try, but wasn't as enthusiastic.

When we got the pine nuts home, we filled the bucket with water and scooped out the "floaters." About 10% are empty shells. Then we boiled the rest in salt water. They are also really good roasted with salt in an oven at 450 degrees for about 10 minutes.

Pinyon pine nut picking might not be quite as fun as blueberry picking (I have very fond memories of this as a kid!), but it still is a very popular activity. Many people go searching for pine nuts as a family event, traveling to where ever the crop is good that year. It can take several years for pine trees in one area to have another good crop, so it is a good way to visit some of the different mountain ranges in the area.

Pine nuts are often used in pesto. Bon appetit!


The Incredible Woody said...

I make a mean pesto - with pine nuts but I've never harvested my own!!

A said...

I'm thinking you left out another difference between pine nuts and rabbit scat...the taste!

Caroline said...

What a fun thing to do! Looks like all had a delightful day....


Gayle A. Robison, DVM said...

Pine nut time is when I REALLY miss Snake Valley! When I was little we lived in Japan for 3 years and my uncle and aunt who lived at the highway maintenance station on Strawberry Creek would mail us huge boxes of pine nuts and venison jerky at Christmas.

Moan, whimper, drool.......

jendoop said...

Oh, I miss fresh pine nuts. I remember picking them with extended family. We'd gather the pine cones into a huge sack, then you shake the sac and the nuts fall to the bottom. They may have let the cones dry a few days before shaking them.

Anonymous said...

I also love making fresh pesto with basil from the garden and pine nuts. They are quite expensive, but they add such a nice flavor and texture to salads and main dishes. I wish I could pick some! (I also have very fond memories of blueberry picking with my girls and your family)


Tina said...

This looks so delicious! :)
All the ingredients in it look great-- and good idea to make this with pine nuts!
You don't by any chance know a good place to find cayenne pepper or pine nuts, do you?
I've been looking around online for these so I can make Lamb Pine Nut Meatballs also. :)

Really like your blog


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