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22 Sep

Dear Mark: Seasons for Nuts and Seeds?

Dear Mark,

Every fall I stock my freezer with nuts and seeds. Obviously I want to buy fresh, not last season’s warehouse leftovers. I am wondering when to expect a fresh supply of popular nuts and seeds like walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and pine nuts. I know that most pine nuts sold in the US are sourced from China.

Thanks for the great question. Nothing puts the “gatherer” in hunter gatherer like nuts and seeds. Obviously, we include them in many of our MDA recipes, and I’m a big fan myself.

Nuts and seeds do indeed have seasons. For seeds, these follow the harvest season of the fruits/flowers they come from. Pumpkins are hitting their peak about now, and sunflowers are at the end of their run, meaning it’s harvest time for them as well. As far as nuts go, harvest seasons vary. We tend to associate nuts with autumn (part of the cornucopia image), and the picture is pretty spot on for most varieties. I’ll include two great resources you can check out. The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) targets California harvest schedules for the most popular nuts as well as an impressive list of fruits and vegetables. The University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources offers a comprehensive guide (PDF) to harvest and storage with detail for even the most avid nut connoisseur.

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Based on these resources and others, here’s a quick and dirty estimate of harvest seasons for the most common nuts. (Harvest dates range based on particular variety and region.)

This is obviously the perfect time to stock up on nuts for the year. A great place to look for fresh nuts is an area farmers’ market (the bigger, the better chance of nut offerings). Check out LocalHarvest.org for more information on both farmers’ markets in your region and mail order possibilities for fresh nuts.

A few tips for storage… Buy unshelled whenever you can, or at least look for air tight (even vacuum sealed packaging). Once nuts are shelled, they absorb moisture (especially softer nuts like pecans), alter in taste based on what they’re surrounded by, and even go rancid over time (some just a period of weeks). If you have to buy shelled, make sure they’re as fresh as possible. Store them immediately in an air tight bag in the refrigerator or freezer to maintain freshness. According to the University of California guide, most nuts can be stored for up to a year in cold refrigerated conditions and up to two years in the freezer. (But, again, don’t forget that air sealed bag, or they’ll smell and taste like every leftover from the last 12-24 months.)

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As to the issue of pine nuts, they’re more complicated. The U.S. Southwest had a booming pine nut industry several decades ago but has since all but abandoned it because of the availability of cheap imports, among other factors. You can still find occasional areas of the Southwest where pine nuts are still harvested (all wild harvest). Many of these are on Native American reservations, where long held traditions help preserve the interest in harvesting.

Unfortunately, pine nut crops are notoriously inconsistent. If weather conditions are off, you’re looking at a meager harvest. Nonetheless, you can look for pine nuts (generally unshelled) at farmers’ markets and certain reservation areas in the Southwest. Outside of this region, you’re probably going to have to find a good mail order source. If you go mail order, definitely go for unshelled. Shelled pine nuts turn rancid extremely quickly, which makes those import options even more suspect. As with other nuts, store them in an air-tight container in the freezer for maximum freshness.

Thanks again for all your comments and questions, and keep ‘em coming!

steve.wilson, paul goyette Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Definitive Guide to the Primal Eating Plan

Smart Fuel: Almonds

10 Ways to Forage in the Modern World

You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. We sometimes went to harvest pine nuts with my grandparents growing up. The local pine nut industry still thrives in some parts around here in New Mexico.

    Son of Grok wrote on September 22nd, 2008
  2. I have had nuts that have went bad so make certain that they are aired out properly or you can have some very unhappy stomachs on your hands.

    Tyler wrote on September 22nd, 2008
  3. Also, on the pine nut issue, almond slivers make a great substitute for pine nuts in recipes. I mainly use the almond slivers over pine nuts just because they are much less expensive!

    Samantha wrote on September 22nd, 2008
  4. Correction… it was Pinon nuts that we used to harvest.

    Son of Grok wrote on September 22nd, 2008
  5. Thank you for the wealth of information. I see that walnuts, a versatile favorite, have a long harvest season. Is this for the more commonly sold English walnuts?

    Sonagi wrote on September 22nd, 2008
  6. Do pine nuts really go bad that fast? I eat them all the time, and they’ve never tasted bad or rancid to me. But then I doubt I’ve ever had any that were totally fresh, mine come in a big bag from Sam’s Club because it’s hella cheaper.

    I hate to think I’ve been eating bad nuts, but I worry it about it fairly often because I keep seeing things about how quickly nuts spoil. Any nuts I get are from a regular store, although walnuts grow well around here so maybe I should check at the farmers market this week…

    Heather wrote on September 22nd, 2008
  7. I normally use pistachios in my pesto instead of pine nuts. I always have them on hand and they’re much cheaper. Caught that tip from Alton Brown. Everyone loves the pesto and no one noticed the difference.

    Though we did make a dry jack, walnut pesto this weekend and the wife insisted on following the directions and using pine nuts so those are now in the freezer. Think I’ll use the leftover pesto to top some grilled chicken.

    Joe Matasic wrote on September 23rd, 2008
  8. My parents in Louisiana had a huge pecan tree and they’d pick the pecans, crack’em open, and vacuum pack with a seal a meal for maximum freshness.

    I say they “had” because Hurricane Gustav uprooted their pecan tree and other huge trees and threw the trees across the field on the other side of the pasture. It also destroyed my parents vegetable garden, pear and plum trees.
    My favorite nut is almonds!

    Donna wrote on September 24th, 2008
    • cool that’s my Favorite nut too they are so nice

      jasmine wrote on January 25th, 2013
  9. Thank you so much for the informative links on the seasonal availability of nuts, seeds, and other produce. I stopped by two local supermarket chains today to buy nuts. The first sells Diamond walnuts, pecans, and mixed nuts, shelled and unshelled. The shelled expire in Sept. 2010, the unshelled in 2009. I’m guessing the unshelled are left over from last season. Out of nuts, I bought a few bags of the shelled since they’re probably fresher. At the second store, they sell only shelled walnuts and pecans from Back to Nature. Some expire next month, Oct. 2008, and are probably from last season while others expire next year.

    Sonagi wrote on October 4th, 2008
  10. The boom is back in the American pine nuts. The global price of pine nuts went through the roof, making it feasible to produce a shelled pine nut product in the U.S. We hope to have several tons available soon. But, the rising pine nut prices have really brought us a new market for the Jumbo Great Basin Soft shell pine nut because it is fairly easy to shell. Nice work

    Penny Frazier wrote on December 15th, 2009
  11. what about macadamia nuts?

    MalPaz wrote on March 30th, 2010
  12. thanks but what season are nuts produced ?

    jasmine wrote on January 25th, 2013
  13. What is the season for sunflower seeds and cashews and peanuts?

    Grace Mayberry wrote on September 11th, 2013
  14. And what is the season for brazilian nuts pis

    Grace Mayberry wrote on September 11th, 2013

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