Blast, at the end of GPT08 I promised that GPT09 would feature Chile’s national tree: the Araucaria. While we did encounter our first Araucaria there, it was only in GPT10 that the tree became characteristic of the landscape.
In a nutshell, the Araucaria is a “living fossil”, unchanged since the mid-Jurassic. It resembles a pine tree with oversized pine cones and flattened, pointy, evergreen leaves that cover the full stem and branches. It grows straight and slowly, making its wood valued among carpenters. And most importantly, the thumb-long “piñones” (“pine nuts”) in its cones are edible.
That is, if you manage to harvest one of the cones. These typically hang high in tree, with the lowest still firmly out of reach. Following the instructions in the GPT manual, one has to “lasso” a cone with a strong rope, break it off, break it open, dissassemble into individual piñones, and cook them for half an hour, after which the individual piñon should peel easily.
In our experience, this works. More or less. With our “lasso”, we broke off part of the branch too (sincere apologies to our first tree!). And though cooking made the piñones tastier, it still took half a minute to peel one.
It was only later that we learned from the locals* the proper way to feast on this fruit. First, you wait for the cone to turn a “café” color (might take a couple of months, so plan your trip!). Then you hit it with a stick (a hiking pole will do). The piñones will fall to the ground as candy from a piñata. This is way easier than improvising a lasso, and most importantly, does not hurt the endangered Araucaria. The only thing left is to collect them, and either consume them raw, or cook them for two (2) hours and eat with honey after sliding off the peel.
By now, we’ve grown quite fond of the fruit. Raw, it tastes a bit like sweet chestnut. Cooked, the piñones have the starchy texture of potatoes, but with a lot more bite. And for hikers, the piñones have the advantage of being available high up on the mountain flanks. So you don’t need to carry them there in your backpack 🙂
* The Pehuenche are an indigenous people related to the Mapuche. For the Pehuenche the piñones of the Araucaria (“pehuen” in Mapudungún) historically were a staple food. I don’t know whether the people we met thought of themselves as Pehuenche, but they did live in Mapuche territory and they were eating piñones 😉
Movie 1: full tutorial on how to harvest piñones as a hiker.
Movie 2: Veronika finetunes her technique.
Bonus movie: cows are curious creatures!