Foraging pine nuts

Fall is the missing season … unless you are a forager. To be a forager, one must mind the small signals nature gives off as the year progresses — and not just plant signals but animal signals, too, though in many cases these signals are combined.

Texas isn’t like other places. Seasons may change here, but the differences are subtle. The amount of sunlight may lessen in the fall, but there’s no shift in the air, no change to the taste of the wind until winter itself arrives for a short stay. Nature is cautious and reserved in Texas, not given to fantastic displays of fall colors or hundreds of honking geese flying southward through the night sky.

Fall is the missing season … unless you are a forager. To be a forager, one must mind the small signals nature gives off as the year progresses — and not just plant signals but animal signals, too, though in many cases these signals are combined.

On my nightly walks around the neighborhood, I’m starting to find stripped pinecones. Our suburban squirrels know the pine nuts are now ripe and have begun to feast. Most people think of pinyon pine as the only source of pine nuts, not realizing that at the base of each green scale of the pinecone sits an edible seed. They are smaller than those bought in a store, but their flavor is just as good. When I see piles of pinecone scales under a tree, I climb it to grab any easy-to-reach, green, tightly closed pinecones … usually getting somewhat sappy in the process. Cones where small gaps exist between the scales are avoided, as they’ve already ejected their nuts.

The easiest way to get these pine nuts is to twist the pinecone apart, then pull out each scale using small pliers. It’s a bit of work but worth it. Each seed will have a small, thin wing attached that is removed before eating. These pine nuts can be eaten raw, but roasting them a few minutes in the oven or in a hot pan gives them a “campfire” taste I love. Mmmm, fall has arrived and my kitchen smells of pine, straight from the tree.

By day Mark “Merriwether” Vorderbruggen, Ph.D. is a research chemist using his knowledge of natural products to develop environmentally friendly products. However, his evenings and weekends are spent guiding people back to nature’s bounty, not only teaching them which plants are edible and/or medicinal but also proselytizing how foraging heals the body, mind and soul and prepares them for the zombie apocalypse!