Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Scavenging for pine nuts

It was the loud thud that got me thinking about pine cones. We were outside playing and scattered on the ground were at least 5 large pine cones that had just recently careened down onto the pavement from up there in the unreachable branches.

At least one had come crashing down very close to where we had been standing and it gave us a fright! I would hate to think what would happen if one actually landed on our heads!#@$%^&! 

While numerous things are ripening in our garden, the pine cones, or those little jewels that can be found inside of them, also seem to be ready for consumption. Why else would they be dropping from the branches? 

And as we neared the site of the recently fallen pine cone, there scattered around it were dozens of the now familar dusty brown shell of the pine nut (confession: I did not know that pine nuts came from pine cones until well into adulthood!). No longer did they seem like dangerous moving objects to be avoided at all cost, but free gifts laden with lovely hidden treats.

That is if I was persistent enough to meet the challenge...

While the hard shells that had been freed from the claws of the protective cones by their impact with the pavement were not so difficult to deal with--a few whacks of the hammer, and voila, out popped a perfect pine nut, with only a few smudges of brown pine nut dust on the hands to contend with and a curious toddler who appreciated the taste of the freshly opened nut as much as I did; but it was the process of removing those stubborn nuts still lodged in the pine cone post-impact that made me break out in a sweat. 

With considerable prying, banging, huffing and puffing (to the puzzlement of my toddler) I managed to free all remaining pine nuts from my first specimen. But it was only after repeated handling of the thing that I realized I was now covered in sticky pine resin that oozed out of the pine cone and had turned mostly me, and partially toddler, into a sticky mess. 

No big deal, really, only that this resin is REALLY sticky and glue-like! I grew up in a house with large pine trees and am sure I handled plenty of pine cones as a kid, but never do I remember encountering such resin! It is opaque white on the cone, colorless on the hand, very fragrant in a good way, but impossible to get off the skin and immediately transferable to anything that one's sticky fingers comes in contact with. 

So after one mere pine cone our scavenging adventure had come to an abrupt end. And between those eaten and my quickly defeated spirit, I doubt there are enough de-shelled pine nuts for that homemade pesto I had in mind...

But I did come away from the experience with the following important lessons learned from grappling with a pine cone: 

1) Wear gloves when attempting to collect pine nuts.
2) When flustered due to pesty pine cones, take a break and try again the next day, taking into account the lessons learned from the previous day, it will be much more fun! (no I didn't give up and was at it again the next day, this time during toddler's nap time to prevent unwanted consumption of the precious goods, and unwanted stickiness to deal with later).
3) I finally understand why store bought pine nuts are so pricey.  
4) No doubt that it is easier to go out and buy your own pesto, but I am hoping that the taste of the final product will make all the scavenging worth it. 

P.S. Is collecting pine nuts something that people with pine trees on their property do on a regular basis, or is this just plain crazy?


  1. Ciao! I'm not sure, but I think it is a great idea! Thanks for the tips. There are pine trees along the streets in some of the cities on the Amalfi Coast, and recently I have noticed trucks out with people collecting them from the trees. I assumed it was to avoid the #@$%^&! on the head since they are really large. Now I wonder who is eating all those tasty pine nuts! :-)

  2. We have a huge pine on some of our property, but we never collect the nuts. It actually never occurred to me to do it. But if I ever decide to, I'll definitely follow your tips!

  3. So interesting and informative, Lost - thank you! Had never even attempted extracting pine nuts from the cones, so 'chapeau' to you for trying. I am very admiring of that dogged determination of yours (to say nothing of bravery, what with Vespa-riding!), you're so right: persistence gets results.
    And now I DO understand why those lovely little kernels are so pricey! I think I'll continue to pay for them, though ;-)!

  4. How did the pesto turn out? I bet it was worth every second of your time... No pine trees around here, but plenty of chestnuts in the fall... YUM!

  5. Glad to hear that we are not too crazy in our pine nut collecting obsession...still a work in progress though as haven't made the pesto yet, but I'll keep you posted!

  6. I'm going picking next week with friends. It'll be my first experience, so I'll let you know how it turns out!


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