Pistachios: Ancient Culinary Nut

Friday, March 6th, 2020

Nutty History

Pistachios are one of the oldest flowering nut trees. This little seed, Pistacia vera, is part of the cashew family, can grow about 30 feet tall and live 300 years. Pistachios have been grown in the Middle East since the beginning of time with evidence dating back to 7,000 BCE. A flourishing pistachio grove and enterprise guaranteed wealth and prominence. Through the Gardens of Babylon to the roads that lead to Rome, as trade increased, and palates developed, so did demand for the delicate import. The Roman Empire introduced pistachios to Greece, Italy and Spain. Through trade with the east and the spread of the crusades they were carried all over Europe.

Jumping the Pond

In 1930, American botanist, William E. Whitehouse returned to the USA from Persia with a collection of approximately 20 pounds of nuts. In the first year, initial plots had been planted but it was almost a decade before Whitehouse knew what he had. Pistachio trees take seven to ten years to mature. The United States’ first commercial crop in 1976 yielded 1.5 million pounds. The largest recorded crop is 900 million pounds in 2016. Today, New Mexico is one of the top producers of Pistachios and the Heart of the Desert farm encourages visitors and guests to tour their groves. You should know your grower.

Growing Nuts

Pistachios are a hearty, desert tree that thrives in free-draining, saline soil and can survive in temperatures ranging from 14 -118 degrees Fahrenheit. These plants are dioecious being separate male and female trees. An experienced grower will lay out the pollinators through the orchard to promote propagation. The number one reason for crop failure is insufficient pollination. Production is biennial-bearing which means the harvest is heavier in alternating years. When the fruit ripens it turns pinkish-mauve, the shell transforms from green to beige, spits and bursts open. This is known as dehiscence. When pistachio shells are green or red they are dyed either commercially by the customer’s specification or to hide discoloration and stains. Farmers that handpick and package on site have more oversight and quality control for a superior product.

Elevate Your Dish

Once a pistachio has cracked open and the tender seed peeks through, you can easily pull it apart with your fingers. They are not tough and have a mild, delicate, slightly sweet flavor. Pistachios have gotten a bad rap in the past for being difficult to pair. It is the complete opposite. These little gems are so adaptable they can elevate almost any dish. Bakery goods with pistachios look and feel decadent. Pistachios on your next salad will enhance the sweet and the savory. Toss some pistachios on roasting vegetables or try a pistachio encrusted loin or salmon. Have you ever tasted Fereni, Pistachio Caramel Popcorn, Baklava, Spumoni, Pistachio ice cream? Pistachio Cranberry Biscotti? Ever have Pistachio Halva? Pistachios add a little bit of heaven.

We will start easy…with Fereri

Deliciously simple.

Fereri is warm Persian Rice Pudding that was served to soothe a sore throat.

It’s a hug in a cup.

This recipe serves two.

  • 2 cups milk of your choice
  • 2 heaping Tbsp of rice flour (may substitute a preferred starch)
  • 1 tsp rose water (or if you have pure rosewater, 1-2 drops)
  • 3 Tbsp turbinado sugar
  • Cinnamon and Pistachios

Heat the milk over a low flame and add the sugar, rice flour and rose water. Combine well until the sugar and flour are completely dissolved. Stir continuously until the pudding thickens. Gradually increase the heat for about five minutes and then arrive at a boil. Reduce heat while constantly stirring. Stir while it simmers and thickens so it’s smooth, for 20-30 minutes. Serve warm or chilled with a sprinkle of cinnamon and heap of crushed pistachios.

A savory alternative: add saffron and 2 cardamom pods with the milk.
A little sweeter: add vanilla, fresh fruit or jam.

Amazing Snack

You are invited to enjoy these little, ancient seeds. Variations on dishes that include Pistachios are endless which is why they are so handy. Some studies show they might even help in weight loss. Pistachios are delicious and pack a punch. They are rich in B6, one ounce is about 48 nuts, 160 calories and 6 grams of protein. Full of nutrients and antioxidants they are also an excellent source of fiber and thiamine. Pistachios are grown in the USA by America’s hard-working farmers.

Pistachios have been part of this world for centuries. They are delicious and a healthy addition to your diet. Eat more pistachios! Bet you can’t just eat one!

Heart of the Desert is a working pistachio ranch and vineyard with four retail establishments in New Mexico. They are best known for their farm fresh pistachios and Award-Winning New Mexico wines. Each store offers wine and pistachio tastings. They offer worldwide shipping and produce attractive gourmet baskets that make great corporate and family gifts. The main store, on the ranch in Alamogordo, offers farm tours that showcases how pistachios are grown and processed as well as a stunning Tuscany themed patio that overlooks the groves and is available for weddings, private parties or enjoying a relaxing glass of wine.