Ranger Kathryn's Arches

October 1, 2012

Pine nuts: local food, slow food

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:27 pm
Tags: , , , ,


Pine nut shells, whole seeds, and the end result. A labor of love.

My desire to eat locally-grown foods and to support family enterprises led me to pull over at the roadside card table selling pine nuts. A young girl stood guard over her supply of pre-measured zip-loks: “Eight dollars, or three for twenty,” she intoned hopefully. The bags looked pitifully small. I said I wanted to know everything about how they collected them.

Her mother explained the process of gathering the green cones (in all their sticky sappy splendor) off the pinyon trees in early August, drying them, and whacking the nuts out. Instantly I recalled that early August was when I began seeing rodent-chewed green pine cones on the ground, far before I expected the seeds to be edible. Chipmunks know these things.


I promptly bought a bag for the sheer joy of it all.

At home, spreading the treasure on the kitchen table, we strategized. Cracking the shells without damaging the seed inside was our goal; I resorted to a garlic press and a one-at-a-time approach while Chris tried a rolling pin over the whole lot. One small nut at a time, fingernails pressed into cracks and gingerly separated the shells. Conversation flowed quietly, gently, with frequent pauses to assess our progress. It was slow, slow, slow.

Our fingertips were awfully tender after an hour of prying, with not even a half cup of product. The ancestral people, whose diet included this 3000-calorie-per-pound staple, must have had a whole lot of time on their hands and few distractions. We elected to move on to the final step of roasting in a skillet on the stove until they released their nutty aroma. A sprinkle of water and salt in the pan finished the evening’s work. The result: tasty, simple, healthful, and deeply satisfying.

Taking the time to prepare slow foods causes me to savor the result so much more, knowing how labor-intensive the process is. Whether it’s a multi-step lasagna, a long-simmering soup, or doing something yummy with the insides of your Halloween jack-o-lantern, I encourage you to try slowing down your food preparation — just for the heck of it. The mindful process is a joy in itself.

Leave a comment: What story do you have about trying to prepare a new, complicated, or unusual menu item?



  1. Since I can’t get onto your blog because Dad has this address covered, I will mention two things that your Pine Nuts experience brought to mind.

    (1) At the lake we had a Hazelnut tree outside the back door of the red cabin. We tried — ONCE — to collect and shell them. Quite impossible.

    (2) And then there are Black Walnuts. Really, really awful to try to break the shell and get the nutmeats out. And then I find that I am not particularly enamored of Black Walnuts. They are definitely an acquired taste.

    Too bad the Pine Nuts are so labor intensive……… because they taste so nice. You can always buy them shelled fortunately. My Nutritian Action newsletter this month had a tabouli salad with toasted pumpkin seeds, (which would have a similar texture) and a pop of flavor and color with pomegranate seeds. They said if you can’t get pomegranate you can use dried cranberries. I don’t think that would be quite the same though.

    Speaking of food, tonight at dinner we had a rice pilaf which also had chopped onions and one inch long pieces of thin spaghetti (plus seasonings.) The addition of the spaghetti was a nice surprise.

    Love Mom (I like to forget the comma. It changes the meaning.)

    Love, Mom


    Comment by Leroque's Legacy — October 1, 2012 @ 8:27 pm | Reply

  2. You should post this article earlier because tooday I just bought 3 bags at 20$ back from Kanab and I loved it. 2 bags roasted and 1 bag was raw. I ate some of it including shell and wondered why it did not look like some picture I saw in cook book and finally I found out that I have to broke the shell.

    Crazy Thai.

    Comment by Jiraporn Gee Amornsupamit — October 1, 2012 @ 9:11 pm | Reply

  3. Your tsle reminds me of watching a pomegranate being dissected for the individual seeds. Again, labor-intensive and pushing one to a greater appreciation of the now nearly-invisible food growing, gathering and preparing processes. It’s so seductively easy to forget our roots. (and nuts) ;-?

    Comment by leroque — October 2, 2012 @ 12:08 pm | Reply

  4. Hi Kathryn- Never having witnessed it before, I saw several groups adjacent to I-40 (east of Flagstaff) harvesting pine nuts just last week as I sped along at 70mph. It appears they were tapping them from cones while still on the tree, from what I could see… Gotta be a slow process! -Dean

    Comment by Dean Ketelsen — October 2, 2012 @ 10:49 pm | Reply

  5. As a kid I remember harvesting pine nuts. If memory serves the best were from Pinion. Harvested them at the last bit of sap running. We used a solution of vinegar or something to cut the pine gum off were ever we picked it up.
    Nothing like the smell of fresh pine nuts roasted it the shell. And yes I have eaten them with the shell. Don’t think I will do that any longer as I age.
    Good memories and thanks.

    Comment by Steve Weeks — October 3, 2012 @ 4:25 pm | Reply

  6. Absolutely love pine nuts with brussel sprouts!

    Comment by Joann — October 16, 2012 @ 9:29 am | Reply

    • I’m going to combine those two next time, in your honor!! Thanks for the savory taste idea!

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — October 16, 2012 @ 4:35 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: