Every Explorer Needs to Eat While on the Move
And that means portable, pocketable snacks. As luck would have it, my favorite trail food at the time was the pistachio nut. Back then, these were ubiquitous. Most grocery stores, candy shops, and gas stations had coin‑operated dispensers near their entrances, offering handfuls of red‑dyed pistachio nuts for a penny. The upshot? I saved my pennies and stocked up whenever I had the chance, knowing that I wouldn't find a better traveling ration.
What does all this have to do with backcountry navigation? Here's the connection: Shortly after my family made the move from the city, my grandmother read the story of Hansel and Gretel to me, and the penny dropped, so to speak. If the white pebbles left by Hansel could lead him and his sister out of the trackless forest, why couldn't I leave a trail of scarlet pistachio shells behind me as I explored? Then I'd always know the way back home. It seemed a good idea, and I lost no time in putting it into practice, though — happily — I never needed to use my pistachio‑shell back trail. But at least I didn't go hungry on my walks.
As I grew older, however, my navigational competence increased. Soon I had stopped dropping pistachio shells as I walked. I can't say I've ever been tempted to revive the practice, either. And though my GPS leaves a trail of electronic breadcrumbs in my wake as I travel in the backcountry — unimaginative engineers have labeled them "track points"; I'll never understand why — these byte‑sized markers make lousy snacks. So the failure of pistachio nuts to meet the test of time as an aid to navigation doesn't mean they have no place in paddlers' packs. They do.
Nor are they hard to come by, despite the fact that Iran is the principal supplier. And those paddlers with strong ideological commitments to pistachio‑nut independence have reason to rejoice: Many of the pistachios sold in American stores now come from California. By the way, the pistachio "nut" isn't a true nut. It's a culinary nut. But this linguistic sleight‑of‑hand merely affirms the pistachio's value as a food source.
OK. Enough backstory chatter. Let's …
Red‑dyed pistachios are rarer today than they were when I was a girl. Wikipedia offers a possible explanation for this, though not, I think, a particularly convincing one. Was the red dye really "applied by importers to hide stains on the shells caused when the nuts were picked by hand"? Credat Judaeus Apella, non ego. (A rough, but certainly not exact, translation: "Tell that to the Marines. I don't buy it.") No matter. In this, as in so many other things, color prejudice makes no sense. Today's undyed pistachios are every bit as crunchy, no less salty, and just as tasty as their red‑coated predecessors. In any case, the seed (that's the proper name for the pistachio "nut") is green, no matter what color the shell, and the flavor is… Well, the Joy of Cooking characterized it as "haunting," and I won't argue.
The old coin‑operated, service‑station dispensers are hard to find nowadays — just like old‑style service stations, for that matter — but this doesn't mean you'll have trouble buying pistachios. They're a HyperMart staple. Look for them with the other nuts. In Walmart, for example, you'll find them opposite the beer. Food co‑ops are good places to forage, as well. FYI: A pound of in‑shell pistachios goes a long way. It yields about eight 170‑calorie servings.
What's to like about pistachios? Easy. They travel well. (But be sure to keep them dry.) They taste good. They're versatile. And they're nutritious. Check out this label: