The American tourists stared as they walked past us, not knowing what we were greedily gathering and tossing into our bags along the perimeter of the Circo Massimo, the large green space in the center of Rome that was the fictitious site of the chariot race scene made famous in the film "Ben Hur".
Circo Massimo, like other public parks, sidewalks, parking lots, private gardens and archaeological sites in Rome, is full of Pinus pinea, Roman Stone Pines or Parasol Pines as they’re more romantically called. At the end of Rome’s long, hot summer, giant, dry pine cones along with their seeds drop to the ground from trees (dangerous to cars and walkers, considering how many pine trees there are in Rome!) offering a free Roman delicacy to anyone willing to do a little hard work to get their prize.
Beware: Falling Pine Cones
There are lots of free edibles for the taking in and around Rome, like wild chicory, arugula, mint…spontaneous growths that appear along the side of a road, anywhere there is a bit of green. When the season’s right it’s not uncommon to see hunched figures along a major roadway digging up greens of all sorts. Pine nuts are another delicious freebie of Rome.
Empty Pine Shells
Or you can just eat them straight out of their shell. My boyfriend Alfonso has perfected his pine nut cracking skills over the years and now puts them to good use as part of his exercise routine in a pine laden park by our house. During his one-and-a-half minutes of recovery time between sets of lunges, sit-ups and push-ups, Alfonso finds, cracks open and eats a pine nut. Great source of iron and magnesium! But none of the precious nuts get brought home to me.