I went of a hike in the hills above the town of Mijas (Spain) and found myself in a forest of Stone Pines (Pinus pinea). Seeing some mature looking pine cones in some of the trees I decided to try and climb one. I was curious to find out how hard it is to extract the pine nuts from these cones.
I found a tree with some fairly low branches and managed to climb up to the top (this tree was only about 20 feet tall). When I reached the pine cones I found that they were full of pine nuts that were ready to fall. So much so that as I reached out to grab the first cones a bunch of its pine nuts fell out. In the end I gave up on trying to break off the pine cones without spilling the pine nuts and started throwing a few to the ground. Then I had to search around on the ground for all the pine nuts that had dislodged from the cones. I took home about 6-7 pine cones.
I think there were about 50-60 pine nuts in each cone. As you can see from the image above there were two nuts nested on each scale of the cone. All I had to do to get them out was to shake the cone a bit and then pry out the stubborn ones with a knife.
From five cones I filled a dinner sized plate with pine nuts (still in their shells). At this point the shells are covered with a black powder than rubs off on your fingers.
This is where the hard part started. These shells are not easy to open!! I tried a hammer but between hitting my fingers and having the little guys go shooting off in all directions decided that there must be a better way.
In the end I settled on using a pair of Vice-Grips that I had in my tool box. If you set the grip depth just right you can crack the shell without destroying the pine nut. Even then it was quite a bit of work to get though that plate of pine nuts!
Once the outer shells were off there is another very thin shell of the nuts similar to that of a peanut. You can eat these nuts raw or, like I did, you can roast them in the oven for a few minutes and eat them roasted. They are a real treat! They are also good in cookies, cakes, bread etc.