October 15th, 2008

Oh Nuts!

bio_lesliedHi All, Leslie in Las Vegas here.

I started picking my Pistachio nuts Oct 11th.  These 3 trees, 1 male, 2 females, were planted 8 years ago and this is the first year we have had a good harvest.  In previous years we would pick the nuts and 99% the shells were empty, called ‘blanks’ by the growers, so I thought something was wrong with the trees; insects, virus or watering issues?  But the trees looked healthy to me, so 2 years ago I started making calls to ‘the experts’ and finally connected with a pistachio farmer in California who explained I needed to be patient. “Don’t sell the house and don’t cut down the trees.”  He said, “It takes about 8 years of growing before you get nuts.”   Oh, Nuts!  That’s not the infomation I got from the expert at the nursery.  I inspected them season after season, year after year for that illusive insect, that mysterious virus, the missing pollinators, the plugged-up irrigation emitters, poor soil.  My middle name is patience.  But honestly, I was beginning to wonder if they would make good firewood.

1But now that I have a harvest I am tickled pink and I know some pistachio things to share with you, such as:  I did everything right and I have 3 very healthy trees.  And I’m gaining some experience as I harvest my nuts.  I’ve learned that it’s easy to tell when the pistachio nuts have ripened, and that the husk will change color to a dusty rose and begin to split.  This split in the outer husk is an indication that the hard inner shell has been forced opened by the increased size of the nutmeat.  Look at the nut on the far left in the picture and you will see a small split in the husk; this nut is ready to eat, but the nutmeat will still get a little bigger and so will the split if I wait a little longer to pick it.  Over the next couple of weeks I will harvest the nuts, one at a time, that have split husks.  These are the nuts that are fully mature; the hard inner shell has opened and the plump green nutmeat is peaking through and sometimes it is bulging through.  When I pinch the outer husk on one end it will split effortlessly and the hard inner shell with the nutmeat in it will pop out of the husk.  Unfortunately, not all the nuts on the tree, or even in a cluster, will ripen at the same time.  To get the plump and ripe nuts it’s a look-and-see-and-pluck operation here at The Sweet Tomato Test Garden.

I have known for years that commercial pistachio growers use a machine that shakes the tree vigorously causing the ripe and ready nuts to fall to the ground where they are gathered and processed.  But, what I just learned is during the shaking process is this; many immature nuts also fall, and these are the nuts whose shells break our finger nails and drive us mad trying to open them.

This past weekend I found out that the shells don’t pop open during roasting (bummers) like I thought they would; like a clam shell in boiling water.  So, after one day of preparing my harvest I learned not to pick pistachios unless I see the split in the husk, and a longer and wider split is an indication of a bigger nut inside.  For easier husking, I also learned not to leave the nuts on the tree until the husk starts to shrivel and dry.

Fresh picked pistachios taste different than the nuts you buy in the stores and they are plump, moist and tender with a crunch. To eat them raw you husk them, wash them well in cold water and spread them out to dry.  To salt them you can dip them in very heavily salted water; a huge amount of salt until the water won’t dissolve any more of it.  You can also roast them in the oven at 225F for about 20 minutes, or more if you prefer a dryer nut. I’ve read that pistachios will keep in the fridge for about 3 months and about 6 months or longer when frozen.  The oil in nuts will eventually turn rancid, but cooling helps to slow down this activity.

After I planted my trees I heard that there are pistachio trees with a male branch grafted onto the female tree.  But if you have the space, one male can pollinate about 6 female trees.

Today a garden visitor mentioned a laboratory in California that is experimenting with grafting a male person’s limb onto a female person for girls that live in small spaces. . . . A strong arm for help around the garden?  Imagine the possibilities. “I’ll take an extra arm for back scratches please, and graft it right above my tookus. A little to the left, please.  No, just a little higher.  Now over to the right a little.  Ahhhh, that’s the spot.”

Comments

    Yum, I’m jealous! Congratulations though Leslie, all your patience finally paid off!

    Hi Leslie, thanks for the great tips on pistashio trees. We have about 20 of these trees in our yard. One is over 20 ft. I never knew when the nuts were ripe. Our pistashios are a green, then they turn yellow before there is a split on the nut. Actually, I have to outrun the squirrels in picking the ripe nuts!! I’m from Port St. Lucie, Florida. Thanks again. Rosemary

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