The S.B. Questionnaire: Gail Zannon
Learning About the Life of Santa Barbara’s Pistachio Queen
In 1991, Gail Zannon and her family started the Santa Barbara Pistachio Company on their farm in the Cuyama Valley. Today, they continue producing organic pistachios there, and have grown into a fixture at the farmers markets, where they are many people’s favorite stop for a quick sample or bag of nuts to go.
I’ve always admired Gail’s no-nonsense personality. Despite her busy schedule, Gail still manages to be very much involved with the Santa Barbara Downtown Organization and its several committees. Sitting next to her is always a breath of fresh air, for she’s centered, clear-headed, and driven.
I pulled her away from harvesting, brining, hot air-roasting and hand-packaging pistachios so she could answer the Proust Questionnaire.
What do you like most about your job?
I like to teach, share, and discover new — and not really new — ways to use pistachios. This past year we made pistachio butter, and we are still trying to refine the product, just to have at the farmers markets. I love talking to chefs and they love to share their experiences. That is truly the essence of the market.
What do you like the most about growing pistachios?
Growing pistachios is pretty benign. They are very hardy and they don’t require a lot of labor. Pruning is really intense, but we have more hands on deck during that period. Harvesting is much more fun: the machinery going through the field, lots of people coming up to watch, BBQ, and eat the raw, fresh pistachios right from the tree
What’s your favorite memory of the farmers market?
Farmers markets are a great venue to describe the growing practices and bring the raw product during harvest. Chefs, food writers, and our regular customers who love the fresh product all create a feeding frenzy and wonderful stories of how other cultures use the nut.
What is your current state of mind?
My current state of mind is busy, busy, busy. The fourth quarter of the year is more focused on gift giving. Because our family grows great pistachios, we focus on gift packaging and have something for all.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Perfect happiness in my life right now — many iterations later — is pruning grapevines, silence, peace, reading many books at the same time and reading the N.Y. Times Book Review, just to pique my interest in others’ responses.
What is your greatest fear?
Fear to me is just a word for a challenge — mine is public speaking. I keep threatening to join Talkers Anonymous or Toastmasters.
Who do you most admire?
I admire anyone who can make a difference, and still be a common man. I don’t have a lot of tolerance for ego that stands in the way of success for all.
What is your greatest extravagance?
My extravagance in this decade is to have worked with Jeff Shelton and his team to live in a house he designed.
What is the quality you most like in people?
I enjoy people who are honest — their sense of humor about themselves, politics, family. Just leave ego at the door.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Taking advantage of our space: air, resources, people. Have a humble quality not one that is self. Most of us know individuals that just take the oxygen out of a room, when they enter. I just try not to put myself in those situations.
What do you most value in friends?
Friendship is to me an ongoing, but not daily occurrence. Most of the friends I have I don’t hear from, see, or write often, but when we do visit, it is as if we still can finish each others’ thoughts.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would love to play a musical instrument and or sing — by ear
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Self doubt, will sometimes make me stay stuck for a time. But fear of not pushing through is stronger. It just takes longer sometimes.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
The many decades of my life have all had great moments of achievement: moving away from home, beginning a business, school, performing, marrying, children. Maybe the next is writing (not likely).
Where would you most like to live?
I would like to live in a foreign country for awhile. Understanding different cultures, art, crafts, music, and food is a great education in itself.
What is your most treasured possession?
Possessions are not important to me, but my children and family are the most important treasures to me. Every age growing up was challenging and now the stories they regale of their escapades are so entertaining. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to revisit, but moving forward has been a delight.
What is your motto?
Love, respect, and be happy.