Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pine Nuts and Hickory Nuts

Anyone who watches the Food Channel has heard of the pine nut.  Most of the chefs are using it to make pestos, salads, and other good stuff.  My question is:  what the heck is a pine nut?

Pine cone nuts
Unbeknownst to me until now, they're the seeds found in the cones of certain varieties of pine trees, and they've been part of the human diet for a very long time.  The ancient Romans made them into wine, preserved them in honey, and even used them in sausage.  In the Southwestern part of the United States, the kernels of the American Pinon tree were supposedly a staple food 10,000 years ago.  The harvested nut looks like a cream-colored tear drop.

Hickory hulls and nuts

When I was a little girl, in the fall of the year, our family took a day to go picking hickory nuts in local timbers.  That was back when farmers welcomed people to their property.  No one wanted food of any sort to go to waste, and there were a lot of hickory trees.  Daddy knew the farmers personally and always asked permission before we picked.  Gramma and Grampa went with us, which really made it an extraordinary annual outing.  For me, it was the equivalent of a kid today going to an amusement park.

Each of us took a pail and split ways to find our own hickory tree.  I couldn't have been the greatest nut picker, cuz my memory bank still holds too many pictures of squirrels chasing each other through the dry leaves and up and down the trees and back and forth on the branches.

Hickory Nut Meats
Mom and Gramma spent the winter hours cracking the nuts with a hammer and digging out the nut meats with a silver nut pick.  It was fun to sit close by, cuz once in awhile they'd hand us kids a nut meat to munch on.  Those days hickories were a prized ingredient for baking cakes, breads, pies, and cookies.  My Mom used hickory nuts instead of pecans for our Christmas pies.  Omigod, they were over-the-top scrumptious. She placed perfect hickory halves on top, blue ribbon style.  Pecan pie is my Ferrari choice of pies, but the hickory nut pie was even better.  I suppose that was because of the fun we had gathering them.

What they say is true.  The older we get, the more we re-visit our childhoods and the more we realize that we never grow out of them.