As I headed out on my cross-country tour for my first book, I made a pact with myself to stop at as many non-corporate diners, truck stops and restaurants as I could. That’s how I found myself at a non-descript truck stop somewhere in the Sonoran Desert on the east side of Arizona.
No one else was inside, save for a bored clerk watching daytime television with one eye, and me with the other. I expected to find a few local specialties, and maybe even some of the pinon pine nuts so famous in the region. I was not disappointed: I found locally made jerky and sausages, lots of dried fruits, and some honey.
But no pine nuts; too early in the season, the clerk told me. I stocked up for the road, and lemme tell ya those fresh dates and antelope jerky hit the spot all the way to Austin.
I also bought a quart of dark desert wildflower honey. To idea of saving the ephemeral treasure of a desert in bloom seemed magical, and the aroma of the honey hit me like a silken fist. From time to time on my journey I would just open the jar and inhale.
I never did find any roadside pine nuts on my trip. But I do know where to harvest real, American pine nuts — on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. Pinus monophylla are large, and they crack easily.
American pine nuts are vastly superior to any other variety, with the possible exception of Italian stone pine nuts. Neither variety will give you that horrible “pine mouth,” which you get when some unscrupulous Chinese manufacturer taints Korean pine nuts with some other Asiatic pine nut that causes pine mouth. Pine mouth, incidentally, will make everything taste metallic for days.
Somewhere along my endless book tour the kernel of an idea lodged in my mind: Pine nut ice cream, sweetened with this desert honey.
My first crack at this ice cream failed, I should tell you. For whatever reason I only added about 1/3 of a cup of honey and only 2 egg yolks. The ice cream turned out icy. So I let it melt, heated it up again and added more honey and egg yolks, then rechurned it. Yes folks, if you did not know you can rechurn ice cream, now you know. Thought I might pass that bit of knowledge on.
We ate the ice cream for Christmas dinner, and it was smooth, very rich and pleasantly sweet without being cloying. The pine nuts, which can be a little soft at room temperature, harden up in the ice cream and provide a nice crunch. I used the last of my desert honey to make this ice cream, and now it’s gone. I’ll hold the memory of it inside until I hit the road again.
And given the life I live, that won’t be long.
If you’re looking for something to serve with this, you could do worse than olive oil rosemary cake.
(If you happen to live in California’s Central Valley, you can also use the nuts from the local gray or bull pines. Here’s how to harvest bull pine nuts.)
Pine Nut Ice Cream
- 1 cup shelled, skinned pine nuts
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 3/4 cup honey
- 1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
- A pinch of salt
- 4 or 5 egg yolks
- Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan on medium-high heat until they begin to brown. Keep an eye on them, as pine nuts can burn very easily. As soon as they start to brown nicely, move the nuts to a bowl and set aside.
- Put the pine nuts and the remaining ingredients (except the egg yolks) into a heavy pot and heat to steaming over medium heat. If you have a thermometer, you want the cream to get to 160°F or so. Turn off the heat, cover and let steep for 1 hour. Refrigerate until cold, up to a day.
- Strain the mixture and discard the vanilla bean. Save the pine nuts and reserve.
- Reheat the cream mixture over medium heat to 160°F. Beat the egg yolks slightly in a bowl. Now, using two hands -- one with a small ladle, the other with a whisk -- slowly pour in some of the hot cream into the egg yolks, using your whisk hand to whisk in the hot cream. Do this a little at a time so you don't scramble your eggs. After you have 2-3 ladlefulls in the egg yolk bowl, start whisking the hot cream mixture in the pot. Slowly pour in the hot egg yolk-cream mix and whisk well. Allow this to cook below a simmer, stirring often, for 5 minutes. It will thicken.
- Strain the mixture once again and chill. Once chilled, pour it into your ice cream maker. Allow the ice cream to churn until it's a soft-serve consistency. Move the ice cream to a large, chilled bowl and fold in the pine nuts. Chill hard, then serve with some honey drizzled over the top.
Nick B says
This was my first attempt at making ice cream. I found a guy selling Utah pine nuts on the side of the road here in San Diego. My thumb is still raw from shelling and peeling all of those nuts (there has got to be an easier way). Used honey from some hives that are out by my turkey hunting spot. This recipe was great. Mild earthy flavors, not overly sweet like store-bought. So far this website and your book have not let me down. Every recipe I try is a keeper.
Wonderful – I just bought a bag of pine nuts on impulse the other day. And Mr. Bird owes me a jar of honey.
Hank, I had the same issue with honey ice cream – either too icy or too globular. I will try the melt-and-rechurn technique if that happens again. Thanks for being the experimenter!
Wow, thanks for sharing this! I’ve never made ice-cream, but am very keen to try!
Wow, no love for best in show… I guess this is not the place for it 🙂
Pecan nut, salted, all natural pistacio nut…
Hank Shaw says
Mom Chef: I am about 90% certain the Lebanese pine nuts you ate are the same tree as the Italian stone pine.
The Mom Chef ~ Taking on Magazines One Recipe at a Time says
Oh my gosh. The ice cream looks and sounds divine. I need to find some of that honey. I wonder if they ship out to NC!
I have to say that I disagree with regard to the pine nuts. When I was young, our family lived in Beirut, Lebanon for a time and the pine nuts we’d gather and eat right there under the towering trees were amazing. I compare all others to them and they come up sub-par.
Happy New Year Hank!
Hank, it was nice to hear about Italian stone pine nuts. I started a bunch of trees from seeds about 12 years ago and the little seedlings have become beautiful large pine trees on our family’s farm in the Willamette Valley. Unfortunately they have yet to produce cones. Every year I check them as apparently they must reach some mysterious maturity before starting to produce. Maybe next year I can try your recipe!
Shirley @ gfe says
Wonderful recipe, Hank! I have heard about pine mouth, but didn’t know a good source, so I appreciate the info. When you make it back to the Fredericksburg area, I’ll share some of our bees’ honey with you. Obviously it’s not desert honey, but everyone does love it. 😉
Rachel Willen@FoodFix says
I can just smell that honey from your description! And thanks for confirming the whole pine mouth thing for me…I experienced that recently and it is terrible…really blocks you from tasting anything for almost a week! Thanks for the heads up on American Pine Nuts and a resource….I’ve been using walnuts or any other nuts in recipes that call for Pine Nuts because I’m scared to get pine mouth again…..or don’t want to pay for Italian ones.