Pistachio trees are native to Asia and Asia Minor. They are in the cashew family, Anacardiaceae, and are now found all over the Mediterranean region. The same family contains the mangoes and poison ivy. Archaeological evidence from Turkey show that our ancestors were snacking on pistachio nuts as far back as 7,000BC, so they’ve been around for a long time.
There are legends in Asia and the Middle East which say that Adam brought these trees to Earth, but whatever the case they have been royal favourites. The Queen of Sheba forbade the common people to grow the nuts for their own consumption and decreed that they were exclusively the food of royalty. King Nebuchadnezzar is said to have had them planted in the hanging Gardens of Babylon too. The Mogul Emperor Akbar the Great was not as selfish as the Queen of Sheba, as he, reportedly, had his chickens fed with pistachio nuts 6 to 9 weeks before a banquet was scheduled, so that they would taste better when cooked.
In Lebanon the leaves from the pistachio tree are believed to increase fertility, and the Arabs believe that they are an aphrodisiac. Whatever the case, medical research has shown that they contain phytosterols which combat cholesterol, so they are good for the heart. They also contain antioxidants, and unsaturated fats (the ‘good’ fats). They are also rich in minerals, including potassium, and vitamins. Each nut contains 3 to 4 calories.
In Greece, the island of Aegina is rightly famous for its pistachio nuts. The ones you can buy there are superior to others I have tasted. You can see them growing on the many trees on the island, and they look very pretty, hanging in bunches of red, orange and brown. You have to peel away the coloured skin to get at the shell, so the nut, or seed, is well protected. The ones on Aegina are superior because of the island’s soil and Aegina has its own cultivar. They now have festivals to celebrate the pistachio too, generally held in September.
A Middle Eastern legend says that if young lovers stand under a pistachio tree on nights when the moon is full, and they hear the popping of the pistachios cracking their casings, they will be blessed and will marry.
CITRUS FRUIT SALAD