Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Sex Life of Pistachio Trees

Today is a short travel day – only 12 miles. I arrived in Alamogordo and went straight to the Chamber of Commerce to use their wireless Internet access to post to my blog. I also realized that I had neglected to bring the phone number of some Winnebago friends, Jackie and Ben Kepsel, who live in this town, so I emailed another friend (Irene and Bob Aiken) in hopes of locating Jackie.

Alamogordo means “fat or large cottonwood” – I don’t know how the town got its name, but I do know that it started as a railroad town. It is the home of Holloman Air Force Base – and the Eagle Ranch Pistachio Farm. (www.eagleranchpistachios.com)
It is a family owned farm that was started in 1974.

I had a fascinating time learning about pistachios. Did you know…

The Pistachio tree is related to cashew, mango and poison oak?

Pistachios are only grown in three areas of the USA: California’s San Joaquin Valley, in parts of southern Arizona and in New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin. These are the only areas where the altitude and climate are conducive to their growth?

A pistachio tree starts bearing nuts at its 4th or 5th year and ends production after 15 to 20 years? It reaches about 30 feet at full maturity.

A 5-year-old tree produces only one-half pound of nuts; but eventually yields up to 80 pounds in later years?

There are male trees and female trees? The male trees grow taller. A grove needs one male tree to provide pollen for 10 females.

Birds and/or bees are not responsible for pollination? It’s the good old New Mexico April winds.

By mid-May, the shell of the nut is fully developed? But the nutmeat has only begun.
The nutmeat rapidly expands and by the first of August, the seed has filled the shell?
The nuts – actually splitting at the seams – are ready to be harvested in early September?

When the nuts are harvested they are rushed into huge refrigerated rooms where they await sorting by size and by quality. Some are roasted, roasted-and-salted, and roasted-and-seasoned. I was able to sample several kinds of “seasoned” pistachio nuts – green chile, red chile, garlic and lemon/lime are my favorites. Unlike some California pistachio processors, Eagle Ranch never uses a red dye to hide blemished shells. Instead, this company simply shells the imperfect ones.

The growers keep the nuts under refrigeration unless they are undergoing processing. And they are returned to refrigeration after packaging and awaiting shipping. Eagle Ranch’s pistachios are sold under the “Heart of the Desert.”

I read something that you might not know about Alamogordo – it is the burial grounds for old Atari video games. In 1983, with the video game industry they had helped create came crashing down around their ears, Atari warehouses were filled with millions of unsold game cartridges they had optimistically overproduced, including 5 million E.T. cartridges. Basing a video game on a movie rather than an established arcade hit or a tested game premise (and expecting it to sell simply because of the popularity of the film) was a questionable enough decision, but the poor quality of the finished product was unprecedented.

Atari rushed E.T. through development in about 6 weeks (less than 1/3 of the usual game development period) to get it onto the market in time for Christmas, and the result was a virtually unplayable game with a vastly sub-standard plot and graphics in which frustrated players spent most of their time leading the E.T. character around in circles to prevent him from falling into pits.

According to Atari's then-president and CEO, "nearly all of them came back." Atari, stuck with millions of games and consoles — along with prototypes and limited runs of experimental hardware like the questionable Mindlink system, a control method for the 2600 based on mind-control — that were largely unsellable at any price, sent fourteen truckloads of merchandise from their plant in Texas to be dumped in a city landfill in Alamogordo in late September 1983. In order to keep the site from being looted, D9 Caterpillars crushed and flattened the games, and a concrete slab was poured over the remains.