Monday, December 24, 2007

christmas tree seeds

We were down in Reedley for a pre-christmas visit and fruit gathering. My father in law asked if I could help him with getting up on a ladder and cutting down a pesky limb on one of the pines "down near the end." We dragged the ladder down to the southwest corner, past the last apricot on the right, and looked between where a handfull of pistachio trees blend into some pomegranates. We spotted our victim and discussed it's doom; deciding where to make the cut and set the ladder in place. I climbed up and found a comfortable branch to hold steady with, envisioning one hand gripping tight while sawing with the other. Then up came the saw, followed by lots of nice satisfying rasping noises, made possible by the blade having been recently sharpened.

Our limb safely on the ground and no longer encroaching on orchard space, my FIL started to gather a few pine cones that had fallen. He handed me one of them and pointed out that a few were loaded with nuts.
"Ah nuts! Cool! Hey, this isn't a pinyon pine, like the ones you gave us before.......a few years back." I remember cracking some and realizing that the nuts were going rancid with age because I took forever in using them and failed to refrigerate them properly.
"Well, this is an eye-tell-yen stone pine, but I didn't plant it. It just came up on its own. In fact all the stone pines around must've come from the first one we got years ago."
Wait a second, did he just say stone pine?
"Are there more cones laying around?" My heart started racing with dreams of local pine nuts. We quickly gathered all that we could find with open scales and exposed nuts, then got to pretending like we were squirrels, dismantling cones and stockpiling the bounty.
"Yeah, that first one was one of those live christmas trees that we got one of the first years here."
"Oh, the one leaning over near the house?" I asked.
"Right, but the birds have been busy spreading it around since I guess" he says with a chuckle.

Thank you birds. It's nice to benefit from your scattering ways. It looked like we had a bunch and I was eager to see what they tasted like. Out in the yard, this would require a few rocks, but then you mash the H - E - double hockey sticks out of them. We would have to wait until we got into the house and used a much more sophisticated tool. Such as channel locks. You can set them so that when the handles are fully squeezed together, the ends aren't touching. This allows you to crack the shell without completely mangling the inside, although at least a quarter still get a nice dent. Simple technology, but hey, I'm a simple monkey.

Inside the house my FIL got to cracking a few and quickly discovered that the majority were empty or shriveled. It was quickly becoming quite disconcerting. He came up with a simple solution. "Maybe if we put them in water, the empty ones will float and we can harvest the sinkers." Frickin' brilliant! I thought, I hope I'm half as sharp as this man is when I'm eighty two! With a little over fifty now on the counter drying after their bath, I began thinking of how best to use this hard earned bounty. Uh, hard earned, okay, no euphemisms, how about tiny little bit.

Well, it looked bigger in small hands at least. And next to all them pretty pairs of fairy wings they looked like a divine treat from the heavens. Which considering that they were dropped by birds, and perhaps even while in flight, I was really liking the analogy. The real working amount had still yet to be revealed. With pliers in hand, I set about pinching the crap out of my fingers while shooting small bits of nutty shrapnel about the kitchen. In fact, yesterday, a full five days after performing the task, I found a shelly chunk in my large fry pan that hangs from our ceiling rack.

So there you have it. 53 more or less intact pine nuts, free from their shell and ready for a recipe. My first thought was pesto. But have you seen any fresh basil in my yard lately? That would be no. With the first turn of weather even thinking about winter, and the first night in the upper thirties it quickly becomes that dried stick looking stuff next to the tomatoes. I have some pesto still socked away in the freezer though, so this meager ration was going into the next choice: cookies.

Biscotti to be exact. The ones on the left, pictured above the neapolitans are the anise cookies I've eaten my whole life, but I like to tinker and make vegan varieties. So I used some pistachios, lemon zest, a touch of corn meal, a few finely chopped shards of chocolate, and all 53 pine nuts and did just that. The end result was nice, but needs work. Next time I'm cutting down on the flax and adding more corn meal. Maybe even ditching the chocolate, or limiting it to a thin coating on one side. Then, they might be considered part of the holiday cookie lineup.

Of course, someone has to eat the experiments. I find they go down nicely with a steaming hot cup of joe. At least three or four at a time, I hear. I also hear those pine nuts spoil real fast, so you gotta make sure and eat them while they're fresh. Then enjoying such freshness you'd just have to think about ways to make the harvest of nuts bigger in the future.

Then again maybe I should just sit back, have a second cup, a few more biscotti and not think at all. Let nature run its course, and let the birds do all the work. With some luck, in just twenty or thirty years more time, I'll be making that pesto.

Happy Holidays Folks!
Oh, and while I'm at it I'll say Happy New Year too!


cookiecrumb said...

Too cool for school!
Cookiecrumb wants to find local pine nuts.
Merry Holiday to your beautiful family.

Mimi said...

I just learned about pine nuts from Stone pines a few weeks ago and let me tell you, I have been looking in everyone's yards for one! They apparantly have a problem with them being an invasive weed on Santa Rosa island but I'm not willing to swim or boat 25 miles for local pine nuts, lol!!
Have a happy holiday!!!

Anita said...

no wonder they're so bloody expensive!

I am so excited for you... this is exactly the kind of geeky locavore thing I would spend a day on. :D

K & S said...

I'm not only jealous because you got fresh pine nuts, but that your FIL has apricot, pistachio and pomegranate trees! Wow!

Merry Christmas and may 2008 be a delicious year for you and your family.

Monkey Wrangler said...

Cookie: Keep me in the loop if you ever do find them. Even if it's to raid a tree somewhere.

Happy Merryday to y'all too!

Mimi: I just love the idea of them being "weeds." I've always wanted to get over to the channel islands. Maybe this little fact will help choose which to go to since I'm sure they wouldn't mind you harvesting the seeds. It would be like birth control for trees. Have a happy one!

Anita: (huh-huh.....yeah) Awwww, geeky locavore indeed! And after this experience, I'd probably buy good local pine nuts for anywhere under 47.50 a pound.

Kat: It is truly amazing how many fruit trees my in laws have at their place. Well over 100, more like 200 but I'll have to count them next time.

Happy Holidays! 2008 promises to be a good one......we shall see.

Celia Fae said...

Love the I-tal-ian part. Italian stone pines are weed trees, just ask any ex-Reedleyite.

O, if we are all as sharp as that FIL in our eighties. Genes are looking good for the direct relatives, I guess.