How to tell when pistachios are ripe
Pistachios ripen in the month of September almost exclusively around the world with the exception of Australia which harvests in February. In exceptionally hot summers, harvest may be early (last week of August).
The hull of the pistachio is called the epicarp. It is about 1/16 of an inch thick and adheres tightly to the hard inner shell until the nut is ripe. Take your thumb and forefinger and squeeze the nut. If the epicarp has separated from the hard inner shell, the epicarp will easily come apart and can be peeled off. Besides the epicarp coming off easily, the color also changes. The epicarp has a reddish/yellow color during development. The color lightens in August and when ripe, it is a rosy, light yellow. Try to time harvest when most of the nuts are ripe.
How to harvest
The pistachios will fall off the tree when the branches are given a sharp shake. A rubber mallet hitting a branch, a fist or mechanical shaker can be used. Put sheets or tarps under the tree to catch the nuts. You don’t want the nuts to fall in the dirt (you will lose them or the epicarp will tear).
How to process
The epicarp should be removed within 24 hours after the nut comes off the tree. If left on longer it will start to stain the hard, inner shell. If you cannot find the time to remove the epicarp within 24 hours, you can stretch the time needed by keeping the unhulled nuts under refrigeration.
The hull can be peeled off by hand or can be removed by abrasive action. Small growers commonly use an old commercial potato peeler that can rub the epicarp off. Some growers put the nuts in a sack and roll it around with their feet..dump the nuts and loose epicarp out on a table and sort the nuts from the hulls.
After removing the epicarp, the nuts should be rinsed quickly in cold, clean water. Remove the nuts from the water and dry. A drying table can easily be made.
Make a box using 1x6’s for the sides, and screen for the bottom. A lid can be made by 1x4’s for the sides and clear plastic for the top. The box can be set on saw horses (it needs to be up so the air can circulate). The nuts can be put 3” to 4” deep in the box, stirring them in the morning and evening. Usually, they dry in 3 to 4 days this way and the flavor is delicious. A 4x8 drying box will hold about 300 pounds of pistachios.
How to salt
Should you desire to salt the nuts, make a super saturated solution of salt and water (stir in salt until the water is so full of dissolved salt, it will no longer absorb any more and the salt you add doesn’t go into the solution). Dip the nuts in the solution. Remove and return to the drying table or put in oven to roast. Use a low oven (225° F) for 15 to 20 minutes.
How to store
Once the pistachios are dry (crunchy to taste), they will keep very well if just a few precautions are taken. In general, the lower the temperature, the longer the storage life of the nuts. Pistachios can be held at temperatures up to 68° F without significant quality deterioration for as long as one year. Prolonged heat turns the oil in any nut rancid. A cool cabinet, the refrigerator or freezer are all good storage locations.
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