Weber StudiesHome , Archives , Reading Room , Search , Editorial Info , Books , Subscribe ,  West Links
Spring/Summer 2006, Volume 22.3


READING THE WEST

read-ing [from ME reden, to explain, hence to read] _ vt. 1 to get the meaning of; 2 to understand the nature, significance, or thinking of; 3 to interpret or understand; 4 to apply oneself to; study.

 

A Good Year for Pine Nuts

All pine trees bear edible nuts, but only four varieties of the piñon produce nuts large enough to be worth the harvesting. The pinyon pine produces a comparatively large nut. The conditions for a plentiful crop arise only in about one in five years. This is one of those years.

Pinyon nuts contain more protein per weight than any other nut or seed. They are nutritionally good to eat in their natural state, without enhancement. According to writers for Desert USA, their flavor may be improved in a number of ways:

 

One is to soak the nuts in brine water, then toast them in an open pan in the oven at a moderate temperature.

Another way is to wash them in cold water, salt them, and put in a covered roasting pan. Steam them in a moderate oven for 15 to 20 minutes, remove the cover, and stir until completely dry. But Pinyon nuts are usually eaten raw or lightly toasted. They are excellent in salads and vital for pesto sauce. They are a traditional favorite with lamb, veal, pork, chicken, fish, duck and game birds. Pinyon nuts are also popular in stuffings, sauces, vegetables, soups, stews, sweetmeats, cakes and puddings.

 

Recipes

Pinyon & Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta

Serves 4

1 lb capellini or linguine
6 Tbsp olive oil
2/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
2/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, oil-packed, drained &
chopped
½ cup fresh basil, chopped
½ cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated

Boil pasta in salted water until almost tender, then drain. Heat 3 Tbsp olive oil in large skillet and add pasta, frying about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, Transfer pasta to large bowl and add remaining olive oil to same skillet. Add toasted pinyon nuts and sun-dried tomatoes, stirring over high heat, about 2 minutes. Pour pine nut mixture over pasta. Add chopped basil and grated cheese and toss. Add salt, pepper and serve, adding grated cheese to taste.

 

Pinyon-Mint Black Bean Soup

Serves 4

2 cups Black beans soaked overnight
1 Tbsp olive or light olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 leek, finely sliced
1 red jalapeno chile, minced
10 cups Water
½ cup yogurt
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
2 Tbsp fresh mint, minced
5 Tbsp pinyon nuts toasted and chopped
1 tsp salt

Soak beans overnight and drain. Transfer to a large soup pot, cover with fresh water, boil for 5 minutes, then drain and rinse. Add oil, onion, leek and chile to the soup pot and saute briefly. Add beans and water. Bring to a boil, then simmer until beans are tender, about 1 hour. Add salt, then puree half the beans in a blender until smooth. Return puree to the pot, add yogurt and reheat, stirring in pinyon nuts and cilantro. Reserve some nuts for garnish, along with the mint. Ladle and serve.

Sources: http://www.wildflowers-and-weeds.com/Plant_Families/Pinaceae.htm;      http://www.desertusa.com/mag98/nov/papr/nov_lil.html.

 

Piñon Country

The piñon-juniper forest is the West's largest forest ecosystem. It stretches from trans-Pecos Texas to the Santa Ynez Mountains of southern California, and from the south of Idaho deep into Mexico. It lies between the deserts and the high places.

The pinon pine, a broad tree with a round head, similar in size and form to the cultivated Apple-tree, is regarded as lowly, [a pygmy], a dwarf, a scrub conifer. However, this little tree produced the fuel, building materials, food, and medicines that enabled prehistoric Indians to establish their cultures on the Colorado Plateau—and to survive into the present as Hopi, Zuni, Pueblo, and Navajo. Other native peoples, such as the Washo, the Shoshones, and the Paiutes, harvested the pine nuts for their winter sustenance.

Source: The Pinon Pine—A Natural and Cultural History, with a section on pine nut cookery by Harriette Lanner, University of Nevada Press, 1981 (reprinted 2001); noted at http://ronaldlanner.com/work5.htm.

 

Inhabitants of Piñon Country

These open woodlands provide habitat for birds, small mammals, and mule deer and are the dominant vegetation in many of the region's national parks and monuments, including Arches, Colorado National Monument, Cedar Breaks, Mesa Verde, and Grand Canyon.

Pinyon-Juniper woodlands are generally regarded as of little economic importance save for fuel wood and the edible nuts they produce. The woodlands compete with grasses for space, and are regarded as invasive of rangeland.

Native American peoples, including the Navajo, Ute, Shoshone, and Paiute, made extensive use of these plants for at least two millennia. Plant fibers were used as fuelwood and in baskets, dyes, and textiles. The edible fruits were used for cosmetic and medicinal purposes. Pine nut soup was used to nourish motherless infants. The harvest of pine nuts was an occasion for festivity. Pine pitch was chewed to cure sore throats and was also used as an adhesive.

Many other animal species find refuge in Pinyon-Juniper woodlands, including mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, the desert cottontail, the Pinyon jay, and Clark's nutcracker.

A bibliography of scholarly research on these forests was compiled by Peter T. Hraber in the Biology Department of the University of New Mexico:

 
bulletBalda, R.P. 1987. "Avian impacts on Pinyon-Juniper woodlands." In R.V. Everett, ed. Proceedings—Pinyon-Juniper Conference. General Technical Report INT-215. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. Intermountain Research Station: Ogden, UT.
bulletBurns, R.M. and B.M. Honkola, eds. Silvics of North America: Volume 1, Conifers. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Washington, DC.
bulletEbeling, W. 1986. Handbook of Indian Foods and Fibers of Arid America. UCLA Press: Berkeley, CA.
bulletLeitch, B.A. 1975. Chronology of the American Indian. Scholarly Press: St. Clair Shores, MI.
bulletMurphey, E.V.A. 1990. Indian Uses of Native Plants. Meyerbooks: Glenwood, IL.
bulletTausch, R.J., N.E. West, and A.A. Nabi. 1981. "Tree age and dominance patterns in Great Basin Pinyon Juniper Woodlands." Journal of Range Management, 34:259-264.
bulletWest, N.E., K.H. Rea, and R.J. Tausch. 1975. "Basic synecological relationships in pinon-juniper woodlands." In G.F. Gifford and F.E. Busby, eds. The Pinyon-Juniper Ecosystem: A Symposium. Utah State University, Logan UT.

Source: http://www.santafe.edu/~pth/pj.html;      http://identify.whatbird.com/obj/80/_/Pinyon_Jay.aspx.

 

Saving Piñon Country

In Spring of 2005, three dozen Westerners met at White Stallion Ranch in Avra Valley, Arizona, to discuss and promote working landscapes in the American West that conserve biodiversity through incorporating sustainable ranching, forestry and farming. The gathering was co-sponsored by the Southwest Center of the University of Arizona (host), the Center for Sustainable Environments of Northern Arizona University, the Desert Southwest Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit, New Mexico State University, the Northwest Research Station of the USDA Forest Service, the Anthropology and Environment Section of the American Anthropological Association, the Nature Conservancy and the Quivira Coalition.

Environmental advocate Penny Frazier talked of community-based pinyon harvesting in the U.S., since there is now an 8 million pound shelled pinyon pine nut import from China. She's now organized the purchase of 19,000 pounds of soft-shelled Nevada pinyons. Just a few years ago, harvesters got only $2.50 per pound, and now she's offering roughly three times that amount. Frazier's web page is often referenced in discussions about the politics of pine nuts:

 

Last year (2003) we imported 5 million pounds of pine nuts from seven countries. Prior to World War II, millions of pounds of fresh American pine nuts were harvested here and available to U.S. consumers. What happened to our own pine nut harvest? All pine trees reproduce through creating a nut in a cone. Some of these pine nuts are tasty and nutritious—others cost more in calories to collect than they yield. The pine nuts purchased at a grocery, could be from any one of the 28 species grown in about 7 countries. Each species has different , shape, texture, flavor and nutritional value. The Department of Commerce reports that foreign countries ship us 5 million pounds of pine nuts each year. China provides most of the imported nuts, with Italy, Pakistan and Portugal, each being a major exporter of pine nuts. Because the shell amounts to 25% of the shipping weight, most nuts are sold with the shells removed.

Once the shell has been removed, the nut must be preserved. Pine nuts are preserved according to the methods of the exporting country. Certain methods of preservation would not be allowed here, like the use of lye as preservative. Unless you live in the Southwest or are over the age of 70, chances are you have never had a fresh, unprocessed pine nut. One might compare this to never having eaten a fresh strawberry, but consuming only dried or frozen fruit. Yet, two American species of pine nuts grow wild on 47 million acres of public land. It is a native plant, with tremendous range, outstanding nutritional value, and highly sought after in foreign countries.

Why then are we importing so many pine nuts? The politics of the Western cattle industry and public land grazing is the primary reason. From 1950-72 the USFS and BLM cleared ("chained") over 3,211,000 acres of pinion-juniper to create grazing land. Before huge corporations controlled grazing permits, pine nuts were harvested by the box car load and readily available. Those were the days before the chain-saw, bull dozer, massive herbicide treatments, the American Cattle's Association and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The days before large expanses of maturing pine nut trees were destroyed to grow grass for cattle—at taxpayer expense. Pinyon pine nuts sustained the native peoples of the Great Basin for over 10,000 years. The soft-shelled pinyon pine nut, (p.monophylla) provided primary protein to the Shoshone, Piautes and Washo peoples, containing substantial amounts of the amino acids necessary for human growth. It was a sacred part of the way they lived. Between 1865 to 1877, native lands had been overrun with cattle and sheep. The pinion pines, which they depended upon for a pine nut crop each fall, were rapidly being cut down for fuel for the mine smelters. Smelting a ton of ore required from twenty-five to thirty-five bushels of charcoal. The mills at Eureka consumed as much as 1.25 million bushels of charcoal a year, destroying the Indians' pine nut groves .

Certain treaties and Nevada laws provide harvest rights to Natives. The native peoples have never fought for those rights. The Federal Government cannot be guaranteed economic control of the pine nut harvest. Corporate cattlemen pay minimal grazing fees and the taxpayers subsidize the land treatment to create the gazing lands, yet cattle won, hands down, over pine nuts as a public land use. Most public lands managers are educated as range managers, rather than foresters. Range managers see it as their self-imposed duty to create and maintain range, which can also be called pasture. Millions and millions of acres of pinyon forests were bulldozed, chained, poisoned and subjected to prescribed burning to create pasture land for cattle. Beginning in the 1960s the pinyon trees were treated as an invasive weed, interfering with the forage available for cattle. Range managers were never educated about the massive deforestation caused by the mining industry, which fueled the silver smelters with pinyon charcoal at a rates up to 450 acres per day. Nor have they been taught that the p.monophylla life cycle requires between 100 and 150 years to reach seed bearing maturity, then cones on a 5 year cycle, with three seasons required to produce the nut in the cone. Most have never read the research reports stating that potential pine nut production revenues could exceed grazing revenues by 148 to 500 times over, or that pine nuts are 28 times more earth efficient in terms of acreage used to produce pounds of protein than beef. The Great Basin was a semi-arid forest, and native peoples could always find a harvest of pine nuts before white settlement.

The pinyon never recovered from demands made upon it by the mining industry of the 1800s. The large, mature seedstock trees had been depleted from all but the most inaccessible areas of the forest. As the cattlemen came in, the land was manipulated to yield grasses, rather than forest. The grasslands dry out and die, rather than maintain the moisture content, like trees. The pasture land has become part of the catalyst for huge fires in Nevada. Land managers again, rather than looking to long term historical land composition, used faulty logic to justify treatment projects as landscape restoration, creating more grassland and flash fuel.

Source: http://www.pinenut.com.    For notes from the conference see: http://www.environment.nau.edu/food.

 

Trouble in Piñon Country

Science News correspondent B. Harder noted, from research presented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that in the Four Corners region 40 to 80 percent of the piñon pines have been damaged by the drought conditions of the past three years:

 

At sites across four states, a team headed by David Breshears of the University of Arizona in Tucson found that 40 to 80 percent of the pine nut-producing trees died during the drought and its plague of bark beetles. Fewer piñons perished during a similarly prolonged drought decades earlier. The recent drought "wasn't any drier than the 1950s drought, but it was hotter," Breshears says. Heat reduces ground moisture, dehydrates trees, and encourages beetle infestations. Tree-killing droughts could increase in frequency as the world's climate warms, the researchers warn.

Source: Harder, B. "Drought's Heat Killed Southwest Piñon Forests," Science News 168 (15 October 2005).

 

More Trouble in Piñon Country

William Ciesla recently reported that large numbers of piñon pines are dying in the piñon-juniper forests of the Southwest due to a bark beetle outbreak triggered by several years of severe drought:

 

Blamed for the damage is the piñon engraver beetle, Ips confuses, a Southwest native and an integral part of the piñon-juniper ecosystem. The beetles bore holes in the trees and lay their eggs; the larvae feed on the tree for several weeks before emerging fully grown to attack new trees. This process can be repeated from two to five times a year.

Symptoms of attack include reddish boring dust and pitch tubes on the bark surface. If the insects have completed their life cycle, the bark will be peppered with tiny round exit holes. Infested trees do not recover.

The current outbreak began in 2001 and continues. To date the most severe damage has occurred in the Four Corners region, especially in the vicinity of Cortez and Durango in Colorado and in portions of Arizona and New Mexico. The large number of dead pines pose a fire hazard, especially in residential areas established in piñon-juniper woodlands.

The current outbreak raises an interesting question. We know that the Anasazi, who built the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, and other sites in the Southwest, disappeared sometime during the 13th century. One of the factors that may have contributed to the collapse of this culture was a long-term drought. Did that drought also trigger an outbreak of piñon engraver beetle, which destroyed a critical food source?

Source: Ciesla, William W., "Trouble in Piñon Country," American Forests 110, Winter 2005: 14; http://cals.arizona.edu/extension/fh/bark_beetle.html

 

Wal-Mart to the Rescue

Writing for the Associate Press, Beth DeFalco reports that Wal-Mart has pledged to buy and preserve enough land to compensate for the acreage lost to its stores, parking lots, and distribution centers for the next 10 years—and trumpeted its pledge in full-page ads in at least 20 newspapers. The land will be purchased through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a nonprofit conservation organization created by Congress in 1984. Wal-Mart said it will spend $35 million on its "Acres for America" program—roughly 0.014 percent of its quarter-trillion annual sales.

Bolstered by a $1 million grant from retail giant Wal-Mart, conservation groups plan to protect almost 900,000 acres of wilderness, including land stretching along 125 miles of the Grand Canyon's North Rim.

Conservationists said the $4.5 million purchase of two private ranches, totaling about 1,000 acres, also will help protect more than 850,000 acres that are attached to the land through grazing permits from the North Rim to the Utah line.

The acquisition connects three national monuments, two national recreation areas and eight wilderness areas, shielding them from further development and restoring overgrazed lands to nurture endangered species in the region.

Source: http://www.sfgate.com.

 

Back to Top