The combination of rocky, steeply sloped land and a training process that results in trees that feature three or four main irregular branches lying low to the ground makes mechanized harvesting close to impossible. Instead, harvesting is by hand. Workers collect the fruit and drop it directly into containers carried much like a back pack or gently shake the tree and collect the fruit from towels spread at the foot of the tree. The collection of the “fruit” is biannual and takes place in odd numbered years in the period between late August and early September. Individual tree yields can vary a great deal. Most trees will yield between five and fifteen kgs of “fruit” but with some tree yields approaching thirty kgs.
The average orchard size is only between one and two hectors so there are a great number of farmers involved but they all follow a traditional practice of what is termed green pruning in the “off” , or even numbered years. Specifically, in the off years growing buds are removed by hand allowing the plant to rest and enhancing the prospects for a robust harvest the following year. This tradition has been handed down from father to son for many years, perhaps as far back as the time of the Arabs. When the harvest does take place total yield will fall somewhere between three thousand (3000) and thirty five hundred (3500) metric tons. Although these totals account for only about one percent (1%) of the world’s supply, the superior quality of the fruit means Bronte pistachios are eagerly sought out by European gelato and pastry makers. They are also used by local artisans to create a number of Sicilian specialties. The economic benefits to the individual farmers and to the region in general are significant. Bronte pistachios are the cash crop that sustains the economic life of the local region.
As a final step before storage the husk must be separated from the hard shell that contains the green kernel. This is accomplished by mechanical rubbing and then the shelled pistachios are spread out in the sun for drying for three to four days. This process intensifies the flavor of the kernel. Bronte pistachio shells seldom “split” with the result that the product is not suitable for direct commercialization. Instead they sold in shell to local firms that proceed to prepare them for market as in shell, shelled or shelled and peeled products.