You don’t have to look far in Curitiba to see the state symbol: the araucária – known locally as the Paraná pine. These umbrella-shaped trees are everywhere, and they bear a wintry treat – the pinhão.
The trees hold coconut-sized, heavy seed pods called pinhas – which often break open in the 40-metre drop to the ground, to reveal its stash of seeds – the pinhões.
Although called a “pine” or a “pinheiro”, it’s not – it’s from the Araucariaceae order of the conifer family, (which confusingly does also include pines).
Anyway, with cooler times now upon us here in South Brazil, the winter fairs are just round the corner, which means people are tucking into these nut-like seeds.
When ready, they taste a bit like cassava – mandioca – once they’re softened by boiling them in salt. Then go down particularly well with another wintry treat – mulled wine, or quentão as it’s called here.
Some of the harvesting of the pinhões is done by the state’s small number of Native Americans.
But according to Wikipedia, the tree species is under considerable threat, partly due to extensive logging, but also because 3,400 tonnes of the seeds are harvested every year – reducing the trees’ capability to reproduce, and stemming a food sources for local wild animals.
But that doesn’t seem to bother most locals, many of whom enjoy the most exciting way of preparing the seed, called a “sapecada de pinhões“.
Traditionally done outside, you turn a pile of the tree’s dry, spiky leaves into a bonfire over the top of a piles of the seeds. Here’s a cockle-warming video of the fun people have bonfire-ing pinhões.
Anyway, however you cook them, you can then delicately prise the fleshy seed from its casing, or unceremoniously bite on the end until it pops out.
Whatever floats your boat really…
No Ben Tavener blog post would be complete without some mention of birds – so here goes: Paraná’s state bird – the Azure jay, which still eludes me – is also the chief muncher, and therefore seed spreader, of the Paraná pine.
One things for sure, they’re really filling – and get a bit starchy once they go cold – so eat ’em while they’re hot!