Pistachios date back to the Holy Lands of the Middle East, where they grew wild in high desert regions. Legend has it that lovers met beneath the trees to hear the pistachios crack open on moonlit nights for the promise of good fortune. A rare delicacy, pistachios were a favorite of the Queen of Sheba, who hoarded the entire Assyrian supply for herself and her court.

Pistachios came to America in the 1880s. The first imports were dyed red to cover stains on the shells from the antiquated harvesting methods of the Middle East. It wasn't until 1976 that California entered the pistachio market with a crop of 1.5 million pounds of ivory-shelled nuts. Within a decade, the California industry grew to become the second largest producer of pistachios in the world, now harvesting more than 100 times the amount of that first crop.

Middle Eastern pistachio processing techniques begin with the pistachios knocked with poles from the trees to the ground. They are then gathered by hand and placed in burlap bags where they remain for several weeks. The hull is eventually removed by being rubbed against stones or other rough surfaces.

In sharp contrast are the modern, sophisticated harvesting and processing methods of the California industry. California pistachios are mechanically shaken from the trees onto a catching frame, never touching the ground. They are then rushed to the processing plant where hulling, drying and sorting are quickly completed. Later, the nuts are roasted and salted. A small portion of the harvest may be dyed red, not by necessity, but for those consumers who prefer their pistachios with colorful shells.


Mediterranean Pasta
with Pistachios



  • 2 cups onion, cut into narrow wedges
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (can use oil drained from tomatoes)
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1-1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 1 cup natural pistachios
  • 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, packed in olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dry basil
  • 1 tablespoon dry oregano
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley (optional)
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese (more for garnish, optional)
  • 8 ounces angel hair pasta (capellini) broken into pieces

In a 12-inch skillet, sauté onions in oil for 5-10 minutes or until cooked through; add garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Stir flour into onions and garlic; add wine and cook, stirring until mixture comes to a boil and thickens slightly. Add pistachios, tomatoes, basil, oregano and parsley to mixture and heat through. Keep warm. Cook pasta in boiling water 3-5 minutes or just until tender (note package directions). Drain. Combine pasta and sauce; sprinkle with cheese and toss lightly. Makes 4 servings.


The California Pistachio
White Chocolate Mousse Cake

  • 1 16-ounce package pound cake mix
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup natural California pistachios, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup butter or margarine, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup unsifted powdered sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3 ounces white chocolate squares, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
Glaze & Topping
  • 3 ounces dark chocolate (bittersweet or semi-sweet), chopped
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup raspberries
  • 1/4 cup natural California pistachios, chopped

Cake: Beat together cake mix, milk and 2 eggs. Mix in pistachios and vanilla extract. Grease bottoms of two small 6-inch baking dishes, and pour in batter. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 40 minutes or until done. Cool 15 minutes in dishes, then invert onto wire racks and cool. Recipe calls for one cake; wrap and freeze other for later use.

Filling: Beat together butter, powdered sugar and 1 egg yolk until smooth. Melt white chocolate with cream in saucepan, stirring over low heat, then beat until smooth with wire whisk. Beat into butter mixture and cool to spreadable consistency.

Glaze: In saucepan, combine chocolate and cream; stir over low heat until melted. Cool until it begins to thicken. (To soften glaze, warm over hot water.)

To Assemble: Split one cake into three thin layers; divide filling between two center layers. Cover and chill until set. Spread glaze over cake; decorate top with raspberries and chopped pistachios. Makes one small cake to serve two.


Provided by California Pistachio Commission

This page originally published as a FoodDay article in 1997.

Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.

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This page modified January 2007

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