09 April 2009

Autumn in Brazil...time to eat pine trees!

Ok, so I'm not talking about eating the tree itself; just the kernel. The nuts of the pine tree are eaten around the world and the varieties that grown here in southeastern Brazil are no exception. Most people think of Brazil and imagine palm trees, not pine trees. The species that grow here are only up in the mountains where the elevation allows for cooler, drier temperatures. Some cultures say pine nuts bring fertility, prosperity, and have aphrodisiac powers. Who knows. What I do know is that they are tasty!
The kind here, called a pinhão (peeng-yow) or pinhões when there is more than one, are larger than say the ones made famous in Italy and essential for basil pesto. They are usually about 1 1/2 - 3 inches long, encased in a hard, coffee-brown shell and edible only after a good amount of cooking. Most locals stick them in a pressure cooker, but as I am not confident with the unpredictability of a pot on the stove containing the equivalent of a steam-powered engine under its lid, so I prefer the old-fashioned boil-till-it's-done method. The ones in the above photo are already cooked. They were kept in lightly salted, boiling water for about an hour on the stove and eaten warm as it is easier to peel open the layers that way. Most people here use their teeth to crack the casing and squeeze out the innards, but I think my dentist would advise against that. The smell was fantastic too and I did a make-sift, vapor facial afterwards with the scented water. Getting at the fruit of the tree requires as much dedication as eating an artichoke does, but worth the effort to get at the good stuff inside. I though was the kind of kid that would spend hours in front the fireplace hand cracking walnuts and pecans, using a pick to get out every last soft morsel.
So what do they taste like? It is kind of like a cross between a sugarless date and a slightly sweet potato, with an undercurrent of Christmas tree thrown in for good measure. It has a firm, kind of grainy texture but not with the oily residue of other nuts. I made my own version of pesto with these pinhões and it came out great! Tis' the season!

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