Sunday, January 08, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: Nevada I - Viva Los Piñones

When Americans think of Nevada... well first we usually think "ne-vah-duh", like the "o" in cot (or like the Spanish word nevada, meaning "snowy").  Nevadans will correct you by saying "It's 'ne--duh'" (IPA - /æ/ ), like the "a" in cat. The state's travel website even says this (though note: even though the state is  "ne--duh" the Sierra Nevada mountain range is "ne-vah-duh".  Nevada, Nevada, potato, potato... ah, hell).  Anyway, it's next on my food tour.  And my first attempted recipe comes is yet another variation on frybread using, of all things, the incredible, edible pine nut.

Official Name: State of Nevada
State Nicknames: The Silver State; The Sagebrush State
Admission to the US:  October 31, 1864 (#36)
Capital: Carson City (2nd largest)
Other Important Cities: Las Vegas (largest), Henderson (2nd largest), Reno (4th largst), Sparks (5th lagest)
West, Rocky Mountains, Great Basin, Southwest; Mountain (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Pinyon Nut; Chile Pepper
Bordered by: Oregon & Idaho (north), Utah (east), Arizona (southeast), California (south and west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: desert bighorn sheep (mammal - though generally not hunted); single-leaf pinyon (tree - for the pine nuts); Lahontan cutthroat trout (fish - whose low numbers are currently being replenished)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: Native American and frontier foods, specificalyl Native foods typical of Great Basin peoples (including pine nuts); Basque cuisine; buffets and Vegas-style excess (in Las Vegas)

Historically, Nevada's food is a reflection of its Native American and frontier immigrant cultures.  The Native peoples of of Nevada are in the Great Basin (which extends into much of Utah, and parts of Idaho, Wyoming, California and Oregon).  The Great Basin peoples were by and large hunter gatherers.  Just as buffalo was the key thing for the Plains peoples and acorns were for many of the California Indians, so pine nuts were the staple food for Native peoples in the Great Basin.  And this was far from an easy nut to crack (pardon the pun).  The processing of pine nuts - or pinyon nuts, pignolias, piñones, etc - was largely a communal effort, extending from summer into fall.  And the first falling of pine cones was considered a sacred time for many Great Basin peoples. Then the processing began - as notes, this was the hard part.
This began by roasting the pine cones around hot coals, turning them often, to cause them to open up. Then, the cones could be beaten lightly to cause the nuts to fall out. When a supply of nuts was available, these required further processing since the nuts were covered by a soft brown shell. Cracking this shell would be difficult and would injure the fruit inside. The nuts were processed by placing them on a basketry tray with hot coals from the fire. Once introduced together, the whole mass was kept in constant motion, throwing them up and swirling the tray, until the shells were roasted to a hard, crisp dark brown. The coals were removed at this point and the nuts were poured onto a grinding stone where they were lightly pounded with a mano until all of the shells had cracked and falled free of the inner fruit. [, date unknown]
The pine nuts would then be dried for future use, often being ground into a flour, not unlike the California Indians did with acorns (which had their own special processing needs).

The Great Basin peoples adapted their dishes with the influx of whites to their area.  During the Long Walk (the relocation of Native Americans in the West to reservations), many recipes were adapted to the new staples brought in from the whites.  One old recipe incorporates flour and powdered milk; perhaps an ancient version may have included pine nut flour.  This pine nut cake, a modern cousin to the many varieties of frybread, is often eaten today while stories of the relocation are told [Detterick-Piñeda, date unknown].

The following recipe comes from Cynthia Detterick-Piñeda of Andrews, Texas, and reposted on the website.  Check here for a list of Detterick-Piñeda's (and others'?) Southwestern recipes.

The Recipe: Pine Nut Cakes

For pine nut cakes, you will need the following:

* pine nuts (seriously, you need these.  As we now know, these things aren't easy to process, and that's why they're so pricey.  I found that I didn't need a whole lot of them, maybe 1/2 cup at most.  This will make half of the above recipe.  I bought extra but found I didn't need to.  Great - more pine nuts to use all around!).
* powdered milk (had it)
* whole wheat flour (had it too)
* oil (for frying - had it)
* salt and water (well, yeah, I have those too)

First, throw the pine nuts into a food processor with all the remaining ingredients, except of course for the oil.

Pulse at a high speed until you get something mealy...

...eventually adding water little by little until you get a nice ball of pine nut dough.  I had to add just a little bit more water than the recipe called for.  The dough ball pretty much just formed all of a sudden.

Break off pieces of the dough.

Form each piece into a ball, about the size of a walnut.

Or a Brussels sprout.

And flatten that ball.

Fry in hot oil for a few minutes on a side until golden brown.  The author recommends cutting the first one open to make sure it is not doughy in the center.  Mine weren't.

Drain and serve hot.

With whatever condiments you so choose.  I have Icelandic butter and some of that Great Plains wojapi on top of mine.

Again, this is a smaller cousin to frybread.  I find that these pine nut cakes are best fresh out of the fat.  I had some day old pine nut cakes, cold.  They should at least be rewarmed, maybe even refried for a minute in the pan.  It is definitely a different way to eat pine nuts than I am used to.  I ate mine with butter but you could use honey, jelly (or wojapi).


Detterick-Piñeda, Cynthia.  "Piñon Cakes - Pine Nut Cakes How To Make Pine Nut Cakes".  WhatsCookingAmerica.Net, date unknown.  Copyright WhatsCookingAmerica.Net 2011.

Elllingsworth, Christy.  "Basque potatoes".  The Daily Dish, posted January 4, 2011.

I4Vegas.Com.  "Popular Las Vegas Drinks". Date unknown.  Copyright I4Vegas.Com 1999-2011. 

The Modern Mixologist (  "Cable Car: Tony's Signature Cocktail".  Date unknown.  Copyright The Modern Mixologist, 2007.

PineNut.Com.  "History of Pine Nuts & The People of the Great Basin". PineNut.Com, date unknown. Copyright PineNut.Com 1998-2011.

Schneider, Deborah.  "Mexican Mojito".  Leite's Culinaria (LeitesCulinaria.Com), posted May 5, 2010. 

Zubir, Nancy.  A travel guide to Basque America: families, feasts, and festivals.  University of Nevada Press: Reno, NV, 2006.  Also partially available on Google Books.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Nevada" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Nevada".