Gateway Towns: Pine nuts present a messy addiction

Road Journals Blog—Who can resist a sign advertising pine nuts at a Conoco station? I couldn’t. I saw the sign while I was waiting at a stoplight in St. George, Utah, and swerved immediately (but carefully!) into the parking lot.

I went in and looked around. The place looked like any gas station “market,” stocked with Sno Balls, Fritos, and Diet Cherry Dr. Pepper. But I could find no pine nuts.

Pine nuts, pre-shelling | jennalex/Flickr

Finally, I went to the counter and asked the weary cashier about the pine nuts. Without a word, she hoisted up a large milk crate filled with plastic sacks of varying sizes containing little nuts with brown shells.

I had never see a pine nut that wasn’t already shelled and ready for pesto. “Do I need a nutcracker?” I asked.

She said, “Nah, ’ll show you.” She pulled a nut out of the bag, snapped it between her teeth, pulled out the white meat inside with her fingers, and popped it into her mouth. She told me they were harvested in Nevada, just across the border.

Pine nuts, post-shelling | wetwebwork/Flickr

I bought an $8 bag, and dug in as soon as I got into the car. The shells were not delicious—they left a metallic-menthol taste—but you really do have to break them between your teeth. I hated the way those shells tasted, yet I couldn’t stop eating because the pinenuts inside were so sweet and soft and creamy.

I would say to myself, Okay, that’s the last pine nut I’m going to eat. But soon enough I’d start craving that strange pain-pleasure sensation all over again.

In Las Vegas a few days later, just before dropping off my rental car, I had to pull over before I got to the lot so I could sweep out the hundreds of litte brown shells. I know these companies see worse and an attendant would have vacuumed them all up in 45 seconds. Still, it was kind of embarrassing.

Jennifer Reese wrote about gateway towns to national parks for the July/August 2011 issue of VIA.

This blog post was first published in August 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.