When I was a small child, second or third grade, I believe, I went on my first and only pine nut hunting excursion. My dad's family is Lebanese, and pine nuts are a really big deal in our cooking, especially in holiday and special occasion foods. We use them a lot and certainly value them; they're both hard find in many parts of the world and hard to harvest. And, of course, they are perfectly wonderful to eat.
It felt like such an adventure getting up early in the morning and heading toward the mountains of Frazier Park with more of my extended family than I'd ever seen together outside of holiday dinners. This was a big deal. My dad went, which meant he wasn't working, and that was odd in itself. His sister, my Aunt Linda, and his mother, my grandmother, Memo, headed the hunt if memory serves. There were lots of other people there, and though I know all of them well, I don't remember exactly who anymore. I would make a lousy historian.
I do remember it was tiring and tedious and the excitement of such an outing wore off quickly, very quickly. After awhile I was just a whiny child, tired, grumpy, and anxious for the ordeal to end. And end it did, though not quite in the manner I would have hoped. Finally, finally, finally, covered with sap from the pine trees and cones with sore hands and feet, we started down the mountainside. That was the beginning of my most prominent, possibly indelible, memory of that entire year. I was small and timid, lagging behind on the rugged trail by necessity not choice, so I tried to catch up when the trail looked smoother. I caught up quickly all right as my feet slipped out from under me, and I tumbled, rolled, and finally came to rest far down the path and in the middle of a large cactus. "Rest" is not an accurate term, it was more like impaled.
I can feel it as though it were today. Spikes from that *#@$* cactus covered my hands, arms, face, body, legs, feet. I didn't notice the bruises for days, the cactus attack was so thorough. They were pulling those things out of me for over two weeks, but first the sap had to come off. That meant gasoline or kerosine or paint thinner. I don't remember what was used, exactly. I do remember it hurt like hell.
And what of the pine nuts, our precious reward for the day? I don't remember exactly what became of them. I know I did not volunteer to shell a single one or remove them from the cones. That day I became even more a fan of pine nuts that I didn't have to harvest.
Since then I've bought lots of pine nuts, though as is the case with so much of our food these days, it's getting harder and harder to find pine nuts that aren't downright scary, and in a very different way than my Frazier Park trip. Most that we now see are from China. I don't like buying much of anything from China, but food scares me to death. Also, since pine nuts are very fragile after shelling, and the shells are heavy, they are almost always shelled there before shipping and then treated with chemicals to keep them from becoming too stale to sell. In China they can use products for this that are not legal in the US and other countries. This makes my skin crawl.
Luckily we have a few options in the US to buy pine nuts. Granted they require a little work to get them out of their shells, but no cactus threat is present. Follow the link below and check out their story. It's a much better story than mine.
American Pine Nuts | Fresh, Wild, Incredible | Buy Now and Support our Conservation Efforts | PineNut.com