Pine Nuts

If you’ve ever had Pine Nuts (a.k.a. pignolias) in your salad or on a dish you know what a fatty, sinful and heavenly little pleasure they are.  If you’ve become instantly addicted to them and want more you probably won’t be able to get enough because they are usually packaged in exceedingly small quantities and cost the Earth. This is because of the process of extracting them from their pinecones is tedious and labor intensive. 

It used to be that pine nuts sold in the U.S. came mostly from Italy (Roman soldiers carried them on their marches) but the Chinese are now growing and marketing them from their tree Pinus armandii. Unfortunately, these cause a temporary taste disturbance called “pine nut mouth” that makes everything you eat to have a bitter, metallic taste. The Italians need not worry about the competition.

There are about 18 species of pine nuts humans like but, unfortunately, none are here at Camp Salmen. We do, however, have pine nuts that squirrels like. At this time our Grey Squirrels are stoking up for the winter by taking down, dismantling and consuming pinecones. Apparently they are willing to go through the tedious process. To get at the small kernels of wholesome goodness the squirrel rips the scales out of the cone and uses his or her teeth to either dig it out of the cob or chew it off the end of the scale. They are not neat about it. You might notice all the dismantled and chewed up seed scales and “pine cobs” lying on the ground around here. These pine nuts are too small and not to human taste anyway, so the squirrels need not worry about competition from us.

The secrets of pine trees:  Pines are gymnosperms, meaning their seeds are on cones hanging out in the open and not hidden inside of fruits or nuts. Furthermore, pinecones are either little boy cones or little girl cones. Male cones are smaller and softer than female cones and contain two sacs of pollen that are released into the air. The female cone, hanging from a structure called a peduncle, gets these pollen grains stuck between her scales and these reach the ovules that fertilize the egg that starts the embryo that grow in spiral cones and take about a year to mature until they turn brown and fall off the tree.

The secrets of fat: Pine nuts have enough calories or BTUs (British thermal units) from the fat in them to burn like little Hindenburgs in your metabolism. The reason they taste so good is fat stretches and smoothes out flavors and lets them linger on the palate. Think of pine nuts as miniature, well-marbled and exquisitely marinated U.S.D.A. Choice rib eye steaks, fresh from the grill.

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