What we call nut pine in Turkish is Pinus pinea, commonly known as stone pine. My family used to have three stone pine trees at our summer place on the Aegean Sea. They had been planted unreasonably close to the house which made it difficult to accommodate them as they grew over the years; in the end they needed to be cut down. We enjoyed them while they lasted.
A nut pine tree begins to produce nuts ten to fifteen years after it is planted. Collecting nuts from a pine tree is sticky business. You must wear gloves to protect your hands from getting all sticky with sap. During the summer and fall months the trees can have green unripe cones, partially open brown cones and old black cones that have lost their nuts. Beneath the trees there will always be nuts on the ground that fell out of the older cones. The brown cones that contain nuts occasionally fall off by themselves or they need to be shaken off the tree with the help of a long stick. When you have enough cones you can place them in a sunny spot for several days to let them dry and open up further to reveal their nuts.
On each scale of the cones there are two nuts encased in beige and black hard shells (seed coat) resembling pistachio shells. You pry open the scales to get these out of the cone. At this stage the gloves protect your hands from being covered in the black oily dusting present on the shells of the nuts.
Cones that have lost their nuts
The next step is to break open the shells to get at the nuts. The nuts are still protected with a very thin, brown membrane that needs to be crumbled off each nut. Harvesting pine nuts is arduous and labor intensive work which is a factor in their high price.
What we call nuts are actually the edible seeds of pine trees. The most harvested seeds come from four pine varieties; a Mexican pine, a Colorado pine, the Chinese nut pine and the European nut pine, P. pinea of the Pinaceae family. The European nut pine P. pinea is native to Southern Europe, North Africa,Turkey and the Levant. It has been cultivated for its seeds for over 6,000 years. The seeds or the nuts have been harvested from wild pine trees for far longer. Elongated and ivory colored P. pinea nuts measure a half inch long. They have a high protein content and they are a good source of dietary fiber.
Photograph: Salvator Barki. The Big Island (Princes’ Islands), Istanbul
At maturity, the average size of this species of nut pine is 20 meters tall and the canopy can be 10 meters wide. The trees start out with a very rounded canopy but as they grow the canopy becomes umbrella-like. As the trees age the canopy becomes more flat. The stone pine is a beautiful tree that has come to symbolize Mediterranean vistas.
Green and dry pine needles