a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

World's finest pistachios

I owe it to the Turks for once again traveling the slow, miserable highway to Pittsburgh that we southerners of the city despise as Route 51.

At the infamous traffic backups at the four-lane road’s meet up with Route 88 in Castle Shannon - undoubtedly the worst intersection in Pennsylvania - stands the only big box drug store where I can find green bags of Turkish pistachios.

They’ve become my latest addiction, these tiny nuts in a shell that make their Californian counterparts stack up like a Wal-Mart store in the heart of Rodeo Drive. Turkish pistachios have a unique salty flavor akin to a sunflower seed bred with a regular old pistachio.

The Republic of Turkey, which has been weathering image problems over its alleged terrorism ties and one scary wave of bird flu, has a climate that produces an incredibly tasty green pistachio.

Its unpredictable neighbor, Iran, is supposedly the top producer of the nuts, having grown 310,000 metric tons of them in 2003 - or 58 percent of the world’s share. Turkey holds the number two spot, having grown some 85,000 tons that year. The U.S. came in third, with 53,000 tons, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

I can’t tell you the last time I saw Iranian nuts for sale around here, but, I will keep navigating the nearly 30 traffic signals on Route 51 separating my home from the Eckerd in Castle Shannon to buy Turkish pistachios.

They are sold under the label of Zenobia, a company that has been processing and importing them to the U.S. since 1926. The company claims to hold the record for providing the nut to North America longer than any other importer.

Now that I have restocked my supply, I will go back to following Route 885 to Pittsburgh, the lesser path of two evils from the south into the city. That outdated two-lane road snakes through Hazelwood and pours out on Second Avenue. Surely, Marco Polo could have found a quicker route to trade in imported goods in Pittsburgh.

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