To anyone who has eaten pistachio nuts, what can I say?. With a flavour which is in a world of it’s own, one would think that with the pistachio nut tree, first introduced into the U.S.A. in 1854 and the subsequent development ( in the states) of the pistachio, which were first grown commercally in California and the southwest, in the late 1970s that the prices would be more reasonable, for at the moment California produces around 80 million pounds (in weight), and with it’s promotion, production is expected to exceed 129million pounds.
Originally the pistachio nut tree was native to Afghanistan, Western Asia, Asia Minor and Syria to the Caucasus, with evidence from archiologists suggesting that pistachio nuts were first eaten as food in 7000 B.C. cultivation then spread to Mediterranean countries, so other major producing countries including Iran and Turkey, and to a lesser degree Parkistan, Syria, Greece, India and other places.
It can be seen from the above list of countries that the pistachio nut tree thrives in areas that have long hot summers with high temperatures and winters that are cool enough to break the dormancy of the buds, pistachios do not like dampness and/or high humidity, but are drought resistant. When growing, the pistacio tree, grows slowly to a height of 25-30 feet with a similar spread in width, and will initially require supports for the branches, production of the nuts starts when thetree is 5-8years old. Production of the nuts can vary with drought, high winds, heat, cold or excessive rain fall.
The location of a pistachio tree needs careful consideration, not only because of it’s size but the fact that it needs moisture retaining soil which drains well although it can also be grown in saline, alkaline, slightly acid or calacereous conditions, if purchasing a pistachio tree for the first time do not confuse it with an ornamental pistachio nut tree, be sure it is the variety that will yield a nut crop. The pistachio nut tree is deciduous tree that is rather bushy with attractive foliage so some people will purchase a tree for it’s ornamental value as well as the pistachio nuts, trees can either be male or female, consquently it is suggested that one of each should be planted, ( “Kerman” being the best female variety and “Peters” the best male variety),however the ingenious growers/horticulturalists have come up with the idea of grafting a male branch onto a female tree!!.
Pistachio flowers are a small brownish green colour growing on panicles looking rather like a bunch of grapes when the pale green nut develops, and finally turns a reddish colour so when the nuts start to ripen, put a piece of polythene or similar around the base of the tree and shake the tree as the pistachio nuts will fall easily, but do remember a mature tree can yield up to 50pounds, ( so wear a crash helmet) on the other hand if you do not collect the nuts early enough you will find squirrels, bluejays and woodpeckers may take them before you. Pistachio nuts, if not ripe, can be soaked in water then spread out to dry and will open on their own, to store the nuts put them in plastic food bags in the refrigerator and you can keep them for 4-6 weeka, alternatively you can keep them for months if frozen, however due to the oil content if you do not store as above, they maybe subject combustion as the oils generate heat.
The pistachio nut is known as the happy nut in China as this is the only nut that splits and reveals a smile, whilst legend lets us believe that lovers met in the pistachio groves to listen to the nuts cracking open giving a sign of good fortune. ( I think I will go to the California groves and listen, but knowing my luck they will all stay firmly shut). Last but not least I just have to mention some of the uses such as pistachio ice-cream, various pastries, crunchy pistachio-coated drumsticks, yes the list is never ending for the uses of these nuts, . Happy crunching,