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Pine Nuts From Sugar Pine Trees  RSS feed

 
Michael Newby
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Location: Mount Shasta, CA Zone 8a Mediterranean climate
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I'm sure that others know all about the joys of fresh pine nuts, but for those who haven't discovered the amazing goodness that are large pine nuts harvested yourself.

In my area (far N. California ~4000' elevation) the Sugar Pines (Pinus lambertiana) are dropping their cones, which means pine nuts!

For those not familiar with them, Sugar Pines are very large (150' tall plus) pine trees that produce cones over a foot long. If you can get a full cone before it drops it's seeds you can get over an ounce of nuts from one cone but with the size of the trees it's pretty hard to get to the cones while they're still on the tree. I have used my bucket truck to get to some, but most the cones are out of reach of even that monstrosity. What I tend to do is just comb over the freshly fallen cones that are on the ground and I can usually get a few nuts out of each cone. Be ready to get pitchy, the cones are covered. Another method (that I'll admit I've only bothered to use once) is to spread old sheets around the trunk of the tree held down with rocks. The nuts stand out quite a bit on the sheets and you can just gather up the sheet and pour what nuts it collected into a bucket. I've also heard of people shooting the cones down from the tree with a small .22 rifle but I don't have any personal experience with that.

As far as the pine nuts themselves, they are delicious! Most nuts are bigger than a sunflower kernel, smaller than a peanut. 20 min or so of foraging beneath a decent sized tree will usually yield a handful of nuts which makes for a great trail-side snack when hiking the woods around here. Eating them reminds me of eating sunflower seeds: Crack the shell between your teeth then eat the kernel inside while throwing away the shells. The flavor of the raw nuts is very similar to almonds in my opinion.



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Bounty from 20 min foraging
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Good sized pine nuts
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Pinus lambertiana
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Sugar Pine Cones
 
John Smithington
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Huh, I never knew about these. Where are the nuts stored in pinecones themselves? I mean, how would you actually find those little nuts from picking up a pinecone?
 
Michael Newby
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Location: Mount Shasta, CA Zone 8a Mediterranean climate
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The nuts are found in between the scales on the pine cone. If the cone has already opened up all the way then most of the nuts will already be gone but there's usually one ore two near the bottom of the cone where the scales didn't fully open. Sometimes you can find a pine nut stuck in the pitch on the cone, too. The nuts themselves have a paper wing attached so they helicopter down when they're blown out of the tree. The wing crumbles off really easily then you can crack the shell and get to the nutty deliciousness inside!
 
John Smithington
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Hmm you know, now that I think about it I may have had these growing where I used to live when I was a kid. It was a while ago, but I remember large pinecones like what you described, though maybe not as large, falling from some of the pine trees. I also remember squirrels always grabbing them up and eating what seemed like those little paper wings you were talking about. I guess they were going after the nut? That would make sense. I don't think I ever saw any nuts on them, but maybe it was because all of the pinecones I found had already fallen from the tree, or perhaps it was the wrong species of tree.
 
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