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New Mexico Piñon Nuts~ A Specialty
Piñon Nuts of New Mexico
The Two-Needle Piñon (Pinus edulis) nut tree is the state tree of New Mexico and a true New Mexico treat. It is a tree nut that comes fro a cone that takes two (2) years to mature. There is no way to harvest the nut mechanically. The nut must be harvested by hand. The processing of the nut pod is labor intensive as well.
It is pronounced, peen-NEYONE
The New Mexico Two-Needle Piñon evergreen tree grows in moderate altitudes (upwards of 4,000 feet above sea level) and can take cold temperatures as low as 15 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. It is not a particularly large tree as it grows only 10’ to 30’ tall. Although, piñons may grow in other states in the Southwest USA, the particularly favored Two-Needle Piñon (Pinus edulis) nut tree is more prevalent in New Mexico. It is a widespread and natural growing high dessert tree of New Mexico. However, the trees are suffering this year due to a prolonged drought. This does not bode well for this fall’s harvest nor next year's harvest.
In the picture you may be able to see a small hole drilled in the piñon pod. This most likely was drilled by the Piñon jay. The Piñon jay is a colorful (blue) high dessert bird that helps the piñon tree spread by ‘storing’ many seeds, that often grow into new trees rather than are eaten by the bird.
The piñon tree is important to Native American tribes. Often cattle ranchers would destroy stands of piñon in order to provide grazing for the cattle. This destruction is viewed as ecological vandalism by many.
Piñon nuts are found in archeological sites in the New Mexico region dating back at least 7,500 years. Piñon nuts are a complete protein and provided a major source of food in the winter months for Native Americans. The wood also has a pleasant smell when burned and the sap is an excellent water-proofing material.
The Spanish Conquistadores recorded favorable notes about the piñon “…..sweet pine….better than those of Castille……..”
Oh, and often people use the piñon tree as a Christmas tree in this area!
The piñon after roasted, presents a dark brown husk and once the husk is removed you may eat the pale yellow nuts. The nuts have a smooth texture and a rich buttery taste. It tastes wonderful from the first bite! Piñon is commonly sold by vendors on the side of the road or at Farmer’s Markets. True New Mexico piñon is somewhat difficult to find in the grocery store. The piñon that you may find at the grocery is often a Nevada pine nut that is a different tree than the New Mexico piñon. The New Mexico piñon is considered more flavorful. It regularly sells for $29.00 a pound!
Piñon is used in both sweet and savory recipes. I first had it on a luncheon salad. It provided a softer bite than other tree nuts and had a richer flavor.
New Mexico recipes with piñon include but are not limited to the following:
· chicken dishes
· pumpkin bread
· piñon bread
· vegetable stir-fry
· sauces (ground piñon)
· pie crusts
Euell Gibbons, a wild foods author, extolled the taste and nutritional value of piñon nuts in his books and supposedly said it was the tastiest nut ever!
The New Mexico piñon nut is unique.
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