I’ve collected pine cones for the nuts more and more as I’ve realised how versatile the nuts are , they first took my liking as a roasted crunch to top of salads and this quickly moved on to adding them to many more of my recipes.
As far as I’m aware and this is not bomb prof so research on your tree needs to be done prior to harvesting any cones is that there is no poisonous pine nut and they are all indeed edible and it’s the individual tree that determines wether or not it will and this is mostly about size and types of shell that defines if they are worth harvesting .
Pine nuts are not a fast growing commodity and can take up to eighteen months to become ripe and I want to share a few things that I have learnt and am very interested in learning anything more .
I’ve collected comes from two different trees one I believe to be a cedar and the other is the stone pine , the cedar is in my local graveyard and the stone pine in a local country park and these are good places to start your search .
The stone pine seems to give harvestable cones every two years or so but the cedar gives regular yearly yields .
If I was more forward thinking I would of harvested many more stone pine cones than I did as at the time I presumed I would be able to gather yearly a mistake I won’t make again , each cone has scales/petals each one of these will yield fruits ( nuts ) and yes the size of the petal relates to the size of the nut or nuts , the stone pine bearing to nuts per scale and the cedar bearing one so in relation to reward one good sized cone can give up to several hundred nuts which by any foraging terms isn’t to shabby .
Collecting the cones is all about timing and there is only one time keeper and thats the tree itself when the cones naturally stray to fall from the tree is the time to pick yes pick don’t collect already fallen cones the critters have probably beat you to any nuts you are looking for closed cones still on the tree simply twist them off you will not hurt the tree as they are prepared to fall and require wind or outside factors to help one thing I will say is that they are covered in the same sap that has been protecting them and keeping them together so gloves are a good idea as it doesn’t wash off without chemical help ,
Once you have your harvest the first job is to extract the nuts from the cone there are two ways to do this either time , and by time I mean just leave them and wait , not exactly productive so the next is preferred ‘heat’ simply place the cones on a tray in the oven at a heat no more than 50 degrees checking them regularly as they just open up when there open place them in a clothe sack and bash them against something to dislodge the petals .
The cones are really high in resin content and over heated burst into flames
So you get more nuts from a stone pine than a cedar but boy are they a pain to get to yeah they come out of the cone just as easy as the cedar but unlike the cedar nuts they are in a hard shell just like a hazel nut and this needs to be removed .
I won’t dis allusion you that this is easy as each nut is normally done by hand some are relatively soft ( normally from the middle of the cone ) and others really hard and take quite some opening my way is a bit un orthodox as I simply place on a block with canvas and then place another price of canvas on them and another block and simply grind with a backwards and forwards motion checking and removing fruit every other grind ‘simple but it works for me ‘
At this point the seeds have a membrane over them like most nuts and are not the creamy colour you see in shops until this is removed I leave the nuts on a tray for a day or so and then jar them up .
Now the nuts from the cedar tree these are completely different than the ones of the stone pine they are the same in principle up until the actual nut these do not have the hard covering and don’t need shelling but do require separating from the wing that it is attached to tis unfortunately has to be done by hand but is easy ( one thing I will add is that you can not do this until they are cooled fully from the oven usually the next day ) they also don’t hold a nut that is suitable to eat without processing they are full of oil and can be squeezed between your fingers and to harvest the oil simply put your nuts through a grinder and place in a cheese cloth and hang ( be patient it takes a while but doing this in a warm environment helps ) the oil simply sieves through in time and then you can bottle it and use as needed ,
It isn’t a vegetable oil as we know it as regards to use but goes great with fish and as a dressing and has a appetite suppressing quality so good if your on a diet .