Lin'an readies for a busy hickory nut-picking season
Lin'an District is the production epicenter of Chinese hickory, or shanhetao (山核桃). It has a 500-year tradition of nut cultivation, with over 150,000 people engaged in the business now.
This year, the local government has mandated that shanhetao be plucked on September 8, when the solar period for White Dew starts.
Ancient China classified the sun's monthly passage into 24 segments, assigning each segment a particular solar term with an important role in farming.
Lin'an ancestors created the cultivation and production methods of nuts strictly according to solar terms.
They believed that White Dew represents the transition from yang (hot) to yin (cool) energy in nature and human beings.
As a result, people should eat extra-hot energy foods to replenish their bodies during this solar period.
Shanhetao is regarded as a perfect yang (hot) food for nourishing the organs when the body becomes susceptible to illness as the temperature drops and for removing inner dryness when low humidity produces imbalanced energy and discomfort.
The local government stipulation was also intended to manage the market and ensure product quality.
Previously, some farmers would pick shanhetao early to be the first to enter the market, which unsettled the market and compromised the quality to some extent.
To carry out sustainable development, government departments have also enclosed some areas to return the nut plots to forestry. Plucking is banned there. Villages and farmers are encouraged to report illegal activities to authorities.
Farmers are not permitted to use weed killers, which are harmful to the nuts. They should instead use hand-operated instruments to pull weeds. Farmers are also recommended to purchase life accident insurance due to the probable risk of falling from trees.
Shanhetao is mostly grown in northern Zhejiang, with Lin'an accounting for 80 percent of the total output. For centuries, foodies have favored them due to their taste and aroma.
Autumn is the harvest season. This year, the first batch of nuts is expected to hit the market in late September. Because of the moderate summer rainfall and the absence of disease, this year's production is expected to maintain the average level.
Shanhetao is substantially more expensive than other types of nuts because of its limited output. However, the higher prices do not dampen people's enthusiasm. It is still one of the Yangtze River Delta region's favorite snacks and a big seller at street stalls and online.
Street-roasted shanhetao is a popular snack in Zhejiang, particularly in Hangzhou. The Chinese New Year is always a busy time for them, as locals love to send them as gifts and eat them while watching TV.
They are roasted in a wok with a variety of seasonings, the most popular of which are salt and butter. Shanhetao is simmered in hot water before roasting to soften the husk and enhance the aroma. After roasting, the nuts are dried to make them crisper.
Some Lin'an roasting masters have been in the business for over 30 years and ensure that every nut looks as wonderful as it tastes.
Shelled shanhetao is more expensive than unshelled ones. No machine could replace the fun of manual shelling. The hard shell must be cracked with a little hammer, although many gourmets believe the effort adds to the enjoyment of the delectable nuts.
A seasoned farmer can remove the entire shell by lightly hammering without breaking the nut kernel. This is how every shelled shanhetao on the market is made. A bag of shelled nuts requires two weeks of processing, which drives up the price.
This year, the 18-step shanhetao processing technique is added to the list of Zhejiang's Intangible Cultural Heritages.
Lin'an now boasts over 250 workshops and employs almost 150,000 people in the industry. The centuries-old enterprise has also gone online, transporting Lin'an shanhetao throughout the country.