Hearing Pinoli (or Pine) nuts came from trees that grow all over the place was almost like hearing there was a money tree. Or an avocado* tree. Pinoli nuts are so delicious, and versatile, and expensive– I can pick them up off the ground?!
*This reminded me of a conversation I once had in San Francisco: How many avocados would you have to eat per month in California to offset the higher rent by the lower avocado prices?
Pinoli or pine nuts come from the Mediterranean Pine Tree. Our boring Christmas Tree type Pines make different cones without nuts. Typically a big ol’ pine cone or “pigna” falls from the tall trees. If you get to it before any little kids it should be FULL of black, filthy nuts. You can bang the cone around to set the little nuts free. The cone may have some sap, but the nuts WILL be covered in this black dirt-powder. Gather your haul in a bag and bring them home.
Now run some water in that bag to rinse the dirt off a little. Do it a few times. They don’t need to be perfect, you’re going to toss the shells. You just want it clean enough to handle them without getting black fingers yourself. So far this has been the fun and easy part. Leave them out to dry somewhere and gather your strength for the last step.
What you have now are Pinoli nuts in their shell. That is a really hard shell. The only way to crack it is between two rocks or with a hammer on a rock. I tried using a wood cutting board and (1) I dented the board and (2) I wasn’t getting a clean crack, damaging the super soft nut inside. But any smashed nuts you’ll just have to eat.
The fresh nuts have a stronger taste than the store bought ones. I love it. When I cracked one open for my friend Fabienne she spit it out and said it tasted like sap. She actually seemed pretty scared from the experience. Now maybe she got a bad nut, or maybe it’s just not for everyone. More for me =D