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IN SEASON / RUSS PARSONS

Nuts Are Going Crazy

September 24, 1997|RUSS PARSONS

Fall is always a nutty time of year in California, but this year it's even more so.

Harvests of all commercially grown nuts are bigger than last year. Almonds, whose recovery from a two-year disaster has been well covered, are up by a third. Pistachios are predicted to increase 60% in a record haul. Walnuts should be up more than 10%. Pecans, a tiny crop compared to the big three, are up 115% from last year.

Just as no one can say for sure why the last couple of years were disappointing, the reasons for this year's improved crops are vague.

"If we knew why," says Dennis Balint, executive director of the California Walnut Board. "Unfortunately, it's all theory. A lot of people believe that the warm winters we have had back to back have resulted in average and/or below average crops. Walnut trees need to go into dormancy, and to go into dormancy they need cool weather. That's the theory right now, anyway."

Karen Reinecke, president of the California Pistachio Commission, says her nuts cycle in alternate years, bearing heavily one year and light the next. "This year, they've come back strong," she says.

In fact, the pistachio industry in general is coming on strong. A minor player until the 1970s, when pistachio orchards became a favorite tax write-off (a tree usually takes eight years to come into full production, thus deferring profits), the business continued to grow even after the tax laws changed.

"There's a saying that you plant almonds for your children and pistachios for your grandchildren," says Reinecke.

When choosing pistachios, look for nuts that have already opened. In fact, Reinecke says, closed shells should be thrown away. "There won't be much meat in them." Normally, she says, 20% to 25% of the crop is closed, but this year the cull rate is down around 10%.

Walnut quality is high, too, says Balint. "This year's quality is just superb. There's a saying in the walnut industry that nothing good happens to a walnut after June, but we had a very temperate August and September, and quality is just spectacular. It's the best it's been in years."

*

Carolyn Olney of the Southland Farmers Market Assn. reports that Tutti Fruitti farm, Chris Cadwell's organic farm in Lompoc, still has great tomatoes, particularly the "Early Girls." Tutti Fruitti is at Santa Monica on Wednesday, Thousand Oaks on Thursday, Venice on Friday and Hollywood on Sunday.

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