2013 was a bad one if you were looking for pine nuts, or a job. I happened to be looking for both. This was still post recession-era America and we probably shouldn’t have even been adding the precious pine nut to our shopping list, but there are some things you just have to have.
My mom turned me on to pine nuts at an early age. Now, I wasn’t a picky eater or gourmand of any sort back then; you could put Mac N Cheese in front of me and dump a can of tuna fish on top and I’d be great. But one day we were at a salad bar, and my mom says “take the pine nuts honey, they’re expensive” and this I understood. Plus, they tasted good.
During the 2013 shortage, even our usual source, Costco, was out. They would usually have these tasty morsels in large containers (as Costco does) at a fraction of the cost of a small bag at our regular grocer.
We were hooked on these little nuts, not just for pesto, but roasted and tossed on top of French cut green beans, roasted and put on a fettuccini dish just before grating fresh parmesan on top, roasted and put on anything really.
We got so desperate, we asked Walmart if they had them. We were in the produce section and I saw a guy with a blue vest nearby. “Excuse me,” I said, “do you guys have any pine nuts?” As he turned around, I noticed his nametag read “Billy Bob.” “What nut?” Billy Bob responded. “Pine,” I said, “they usually come in a tiny little 2-ounce bag for about $10 a bag.” Billy Bob scratched his head and looked around. He saw another blue vest walking by and he stopped her. “Wanda, you know if we got pine nuts?” Wanda tried to be helpful by going through a list of nuts out loud. “We got peanuts, beer nuts, cashew nuts, pecan….” I knew we were getting nowhere slow, so I cut her off: “That’s okay, we’ll try somewhere else.”
But Billy Bob wasn’t giving up. He got on his walkie and put out an APB: “Any y’all know if we got pine nuts?” The responses were all over the place: “Pine Sol is on aisle 23; pine cones are seasonal; pine scent candles aisle 15.” And then a voice came over the store intercom, “we do not carry pine nuts.”
“Well, I guess, that’s that, thanks anyway” I said as we turned to leave. Billy Bob, however, wasn’t done. “For $5 an ounce, I can probably climb a few pine trees and get y’all some fresh ones,” he offered. I laughed and kept walking, but later realized he was probably not joking.
I imagined Billy Bob turning in his blue vest for the life of a farm-to-table pine nut grower and carving out a sign from one of his own pine trees: “Billy Bob’s Pine Nuts.” Of course he’d also sell boiled peanuts out of a trash barrel, and ice cold beer, like any good old boy would.