IT is very hard not to smile when your produce of choice is always smiling back at you.
That is the case for Elong Elong grower Richard Barton who has grown pistachios in NSW’s Central West for more than 40 years.
Widely known as the happy nut, pistachios were given this moniker because when they split they look like they are smiling.
Richard and his wife Diane own and operate Murrungundry Pistachios, located about 35 minutes from Wellington, with approximately 4000 trees on 10 hectares.
Pistachios have been in the Burton family since 1979 when Richard and his dad Hugh propagated rootstock seeds imported from California.
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“Two men had a cocoa plantation in New Guinea and were kicked out when it gained independence,” Richard said.
“They bought the next property over from us and were going to become Australia’s first pistachio farm.
“They believed this area was ideal with the two weather extremes – the hot and the cold.
“They grew them for two years and I started out by helping them with odd jobs as a young bloke and when they had a bit of a falling out, they asked if I wanted the idea.
“At the time the cattle industry fell in a hole, they were worth nothing, and my dad was big into cattle.
“I suggested we put 25 acres aside and plant pistachios.
“We propagated the seeds in our nursery and when they were about the size of a little finger, we planted them out.
“We left them in the ground for about a year and then we grafted the pistachio tree onto them.
“As they are wind-pollinated, you need nine females to one male.
”It is a bit of work early on as grafting was a bit hard.
“I’ve since learned how to graft.
“I was told to graft on the full moon and I thought it was just voodoo.
If you do not get the heat, the pistachios will not split and if you do not get the cold, the trees will not set the buds for the next year.
“Then I did it and nearly got a 100 per cent success rate – I don’t think it is voodoo anymore.”
Despite the insistence from ‘so-called’ experts that pistachios would not work in the area, Richard saw the possibilities and the ideal conditions.
“The weather here is just what pistachios need,” he said.
“You get the two extremes with the heat and the cold, more or less similar conditions to where pistachios originated in Afghanistan.
“If you do not get the heat, the pistachios will not split and if you do not get the cold, the trees will not set the buds for the next year.”
“Our conditions here really suit the pistachio.”
We used to sell them fresh with the skin still on them into Sydney, running the harvest 24/7 to get them there. Now it is too hard to find labour and the money is not as good as it once was.
Harvest usually begins in early February and can run for as long as six weeks.
Harvesting is done by shaking the pistachios down onto shade cloth.
“We have a machine we made up with three shaker poles,” Richard said.
“It is not the Real McCoy, but a home made one we built ourselves.
“After we harvest them, we process the pistachios in our shed.
“We used to sell them fresh with the skin still on them into Sydney, running the harvest 24/7 to get them there.
“Now it is too hard to find labour and the money is not as good as it once was.
“So we process them here instead.
“After they are harvested, we use a machine to take the skin off.
“After that they go into a flotation tank full of water where the good nuts sink and the bad nuts float.
“The pistachios, about one and a half tonne of them, go into a dehydrator on trays for 15 hours where they dry to three per cent moisture.
“We have another machine, a needle picker, which separates the split pistachios from the non-split ones.
“If the needle can’t grab the nut and throw it down the hole, it keeps going.
“The split pistachios go onto another table after that with two people on it, removing the discoloured ones.
“They are then flavoured, we do six different flavours, and bagged and sold to approximately 100 shops around Australia, mainly gourmet shops.”
Pistachios have been proven to lower cholesterol and Richard’s wife Diane has a number of recipes on their website for customers to try.
Here is one of her favourites.
Pistachio and Fig Glazed Ham
3-4 kg half leg ham, 1 jar Murrungundy Fig and Pistachio Jam, 1/2 cup maple syrup.
Preheat oven to 1600. Remove rind from ham by easing if off gently with your fingers. Use the tip of a sharp knife to score the layer of fat at 2cm intervals.
Place maple syrup and Murrungundy Fig and Pistachio Jam in a pan over a medium heat and stir until jam has dissolved.
Remove from heat. Place ham in a deep baking dish, spread Fig mixture over the top and bake for 40 minutes until golden. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before carving.
VARIATIONS: After spreading syrup add extra chopped Murrungundy Pistachio Kernels.
- This story first appeared on The Land.