When and How to Forage Pine Nuts?

Are Pine Nuts seeds or nuts?

It’s a common question for people who have nut allergies if they can consume sunflowers, pine nuts, poppy, pumpkin, sesame seeds, tigernuts etc. The simple answer is that you are able to eat these seeds because none of them are tree nuts. Each comes from plant families that are not closely related to nut-producing trees.

Tree nuts include only eight tree nuts in the grouping. These are almond, hazelnut, walnut, brazil nut, cashew, pecan, pistachio , macadamia.

We know that pine nuts are one of the more expensive nuts on the market and not easy to work with them in the long run. They are expensive because of the time required to grow the nuts and the effort to harvest the seeds from their protective encasement. But pine nuts are free in nature, just you need to know methods to forage them and spend some time to crack them with patience.

Pine nuts take roughly 16-18 months, but some can take up to three years. They bud in spring and grow until the end of summer sometimes beginning of autumn. The cones become dormant during fall and winter and reach maturity come the following spring/summer season.

They are ready to harvest about 10 days before the green cone begins to open. The cones are dried in a burlap bag in the sun for 20 days or sometimes in the oven, to speed up the process of drying and opening. They are smashed to seperate from the pod and the seeds are separated by hand from the cone. The fact that it takes a lot of time and patience is an understatement and justifies the high price of pine nuts everywhere in the world.

Gathering Pine Nuts

All pine trees produce nuts which you can eat.  However, some species have much smaller nuts. If you are serious about harvesting your own pine nuts, you should scout out some pine trees in early summer.  Pine cones are usually ready for harvesting from July to November, depending on where you live. In Sweden pine cones are available at markets in November.

There are two things that will make a closed pine cone open up: dryness and heat.

The easiest way to get the pine nuts out of the cone is simply to lay the pine cones out and let them dry out on their own. It will take a few weeks, but the pine cones will open up. Then you can tap the pine cones and the seeds will fall out.

If you don’t feel like waiting 3 weeks for your pine cones to open up, then you can use heat. But if you want them raw, it is best to move to the heater.

There is an easy alternative method; if it is already late in the season and the pine cones have opened up, then you can use this method for gathering the pine nuts.

Put a big tarp under the pine tree. Then shake the branches of the pine tree really hard.

This will make the remaining pine nuts (the ones which haven’t been eaten by critters yet) fall out of the cones and land on your tarp.

Sorting the rotten or hollow Pine Nuts

Even if you harvest your pine nuts on time, there will some rotten or hollow pine nuts. It is frustrating to shell the nuts only to find out it is rotten or hollow.

Here is a simple way to sort out the hollow pine nuts:

1.Put your pine nuts in a big bowl of water.
2.The hollow pine nuts will float to the top.
3.The edible pine nuts will sink to the bottom
4.Most of the floaters are going to be hollow or rotten, don’t spend your time for them.

Shelling the Pine Nuts

Shelling pine nuts is a big hassle and there isn’t a fast way to do it.

First you need to leave them to dry for couple of days in the hot climate. You can heat them in the dehydrator at 42 C for 24-32 hours in order to make this process faster. then you will see little cracked lines. Using the tip of a pointed knife, enter this line and gently separate the nut from the shell.

I wouldn’t recommend smashing the pine nut shell because you’ll probably smash the small nut inside too.

Picking tip: The darker the color, the better the nut inside. If you will gather the nuts spreaded around the tree, so just picking those.

Cracking tip: crack the shells is with a hammer, gently just a couple taps to crack it enough to pry it off with your fingers. Set the nuts on a paper towel so they don’t slide around when you’re tapping them.