OK, I have to admit that left to my own devices I would never have stopped here at McGinns Pistachio Tree Ranch, and that would have been too bad. So it's a good thing a fun-loving, adventurous, gregarious member of the family was piloting the car that day instead of me since I'm a bonafide people-avoiding, tourist-trap-phobic, stick-in-the-mud curmudgeon. (All right already! It's not necessary for everyone to agree so enthusiastically!)
McGinns, home of the world's largest pistachio, is a family run place (The current generation have added the grape vines.) that got its start during the Iran embargo of the late 70's which suddenly made it economically feasible to home-grow pistachios.
In addition to the touristy-trinket side of the shop, and the wine bar, the ice-cream bar, and, of course, a lot of nuts for sale, for a couple bucks you can hop on a big green, mega-golfcarty kind of thing and take a guided tour of the ranch.
I highly recommend taking this tour!! But then again I'm a geek that finds learning new things fascinating. . . Even if learning isn't your thing, just remember that after the tour you can exchange your ticket-stub at the ice-cream bar for a big fat homemade cookie!
I'll try not to subject you to the dialog from the entire tour, but I just have to spout off a few of the things I learned.
- Mcginn's has over 12,000 pistachio trees and 6000 grape-vines
- It takes 4 years for a pistachio tree to start producing and then only a few pounds worth
- A mature tree will produce 50 to over 100 pounds of processed nuts depending on the year
- Each tree is hand-grafted onto a disease-resistant root stock
- Only female trees produce nuts but each grove has a couple male trees on the downwind side.
- During summer irrigation season each tree gets 25 - 30 gallons of water once a week.
And I have to give special attention to a couple more cool facts.
There are a few large, blooming rose-bushes incongruously scattered around in the groves. Being particularly sensitive things, these roses are the grove's version of mine-canaries, giving advance warning of any issues that might affect the trees.
And finally; remember the red pistachios we used to stain our fingers, mouths, teeth, and furniture with years ago?? Pistachios are drupes. That means like pecans and coconuts they grow under a fleshy outer skin. If the skins of harvested pistachios are not dried and removed right away (It's raining, there's too much harvest to spread out in the sun all at one time, etc.) this outer skin ferments, staining the hard shell underneath and it's pretty ugly looking. The way around that was to cover up the staining with a bright red dye. Today modern processing machines strip the outer skin off the nuts quickly so the staining no longer has a chance to occur and the dye is not necessary. In fact, what with the persistent questions about the safety of red dyes in food, it's pretty much impossible to find red pistachios anymore.
But here's the point where I feel it's my duty to give a word of warning about stopping at McGinn's.
Of course most visitors are probably going to buy some pistachios while they're there. I mean, come on! That's pretty much the law when you stop at a pistachio ranch!
And I was not immune to this consumerist urge. In fact after picking up one bag it occurred to me that I was still a good week away from home (Easter Weekend was coming up and since I am holiday-crowd phobic it put an expiration date on my trip, otherwise I'd have been even farther out from returning home.) and I got to thinking that history has shown when left to my own devices I'm pretty susceptible to the temptation of sampling the goods, yet if I returned home with nothing but an empty bag of one of our favorite nuts I'd be in deep shit, so I picked up a second bag, vowing that I would eat from the first but not break the seal on the second until back home again when we could share it. (And, for the sake of my continued health, I stuck to my vow!)
But; and here's the warning part; when you're standing among bins and rows and shelves of shelled, unshelled, natural, flavored, spiced, and brittled (One of their specialties.) nuts stacked from floor to nearly as high as the average fingertip can reach, there's a strange size-envy phenomenon that occurs.
My two little 8 oz bags of shelled pistachios looked so small and puny there in my hands among all this nutty bounty it was embarrassing! So I surreptitiously slipped them back onto the shelf and pulled down a couple one pound bags instead.
Well somewhere just beyond the front door, the grip of this phenomenon quickly faded and halfway to The Van I was wishing I had brought along a hand-cart, or maybe a Sherpa. What was I thinking?! Two pounds of shelled pistachios is one hell of a lot of nuts!
I should probably stop at a truck-scale and see if I need to add some air to the tires. . .