While all pine trees bear edible nuts, only four varieties of piñon produce nuts large enough to be worth harvesting. The meat of piñon nuts is white-yellow, translucent, and soft. The nuts can be eaten raw, or roasted for an extended shelf life and are considered excellent for cooking, baking and snacking. They have outstanding nutritional value and supply 20 amino acids and provide significant amounts of vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin.
According to Scott Nuechterlein, owner/operator of Telluride Deliveries, this is the best harvest he has seen in the area since 2004, when he first moved to the area.
“This year I was walking in my yard and saw millions of piñon nuts on the ground,” said Nuechterlein. “There were pine cones opening and the nuts were ready to be harvested. I gathered about 10 quarts of nuts from trees right in my front yard.”
Nuechterlein processed the nuts by soaking the unshelled nuts in salt water for one hour, and then spread them on a cookie sheet to roast at 350 degrees for one hour. Nuechterlein said the nuts are easier to shell after they have been roasted, and the salt brings out their rich flavor.
In the southwestern United States, piñon nuts have been a staple food of native peoples in the region for 10,000 years. Traditionally, the piñon nut harvest was a significant social occasion, and people of the Great Basin considered regions where piñon nuts grew to be sacred.
The BLM suggests two safe and effective methods for harvesting piñon nuts: removing the cones from the trees (and only the cones, not the branches) or knocking the nuts loose from the cones onto a tarp placed beneath the tree limbs.
Harvesting piñon nuts from public lands is regulated by BLM guidelines. Permits are not required for incidental harvest (for use on the spot or later that same day) or personal use harvest (not intended for sale, limited to 75 pounds per year).
Permits are required for commercial harvesters who intend to sell their nuts or for personal use in excess of 75 pounds. In Colorado, BLM field offices and national forests typically charge 20 cents per pound for commercial permits, with a minimum charge of $20.
For more information, visit www.pinonnuts.org, a public-private partnership sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management's Colorado State Office for promoting the sustainable harvest of wild piñon nuts.
These two recipes for using piñon nuts – basil pesto and pine nut aphrodisiac soup – are quick, simple and delicious.
4 cups packed fresh basil leaves, washed well
1/2 cup piñon nuts, shelled then toasted until golden, cooled and chopped fine
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (about 1 1/2 ounces)
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons
Extra virgin olive oil
Have ready a bowl of ice and cold water.
In a saucepan of boiling salted water blanch basil, a handful at a time for two seconds. Transfer the basil with a slotted spoon to the bowl of ice water to stop cooking.
Drain basil in a sieve and pat dry.
In a food processor puree basil with remaining ingredients until smooth and season with salt and pepper.
Pesto may be made two days ahead of use and chilled. Cover the surface of the pesto with plastic wrap to keep.
Makes about 1 1/4 cups.
PINE NUT APHRODISIAC SOUP
1/4 cup piñon nuts
2 egg yolks
1 cup chicken bouillon
1 cup cream
Puree piñon nuts and egg yolks in a food processor until you have a fine, smooth paste. Put the paste in a saucepan and add chicken bouillon and cream. (The chicken bouillon and cream can also be added at the food processor stage if you have difficulties in obtaining a smooth paste.)
Heat over a gentle fire and stir constantly until the mixture thickens. Do not boil!
This dish can be prepared hours in advance.
Recipes courtesy of Penny Frazier, owner of Goods From the Woods and www.pinenut.com.