By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
Walnuts were my go-to nut ingredient during my 30 years of owning a bakery. I knew how to incorporate them into delicious desserts such as brownies, cookies, and coffee cakes. But I knew nothing about the growing or harvesting of these versatile and healthy morsels. Fortunately for me, 99% of walnuts grown in the United States are from the California Central Valley, where the climate for them is ideal. Here in California, walnut trees begin to bud around April through May. The trees are beautiful majestic specimens with a wide branch spread.
I had the privilege of visiting a walnut grove a couple of weekends ago in the south San Francisco Bay Area. it was a remarkable experience. My husband Bob and I took a Sunday drive to Mike and his wife Jan’s beautiful slice-of-heaven 13-acre homestead in the rolling green hills of the Bay Area. Their home is nestled against a tree-covered foothill, along with their walnut grove, flower gardens, beehives, and their collection of antique farm equipment, such as an old grape press and an even older olive press.
Inside a very large metal garage, filled with every kind of tool imaginable. the walnut processing happens each October. The farm was inherited from Jan’s parents, who purchased it back in 1969. Some of the 30 walnut trees are older than 60 years! These are English walnuts, which come in five varieties. The duo have an additional 15 young trees that were planted recently. It’s hard to believe but Jan’s parents used to build NASCAR race cars in this very garage. They even produced several winners!
No, this is not Mike and Jan’s business. Mike is a retired fire department captain and Jan a retired grade-school teacher. The walnuts are a hobby. If they didn’t pick them and take the meat out year after year, the trees would still produce and create a huge mess on the ground in the grove. It’s bad enough they have to combat crows, turkeys, deer, and squirrels when they do harvest. I can’t imagine what a field day these critters would have if all of the nuts remained.
Mike and Jan do harvest each year, by hand. They shake the trees and rake the nuts into piles before collecting in big drums. When all is said and done, they yield about 300 quart-size Ziploc bags each season. Jan only requires a dozen bags for her personal yearly stash. The rest go to friends and family. Lucky us.
Walnuts have a round, hard husk. Inside the husk is the shell that we know and recognize. After cracking the shell carefully but firmly, the meat is removed in two pieces. Walnuts are known for supporting good health for your cardiovascular system. They contain antioxidants that can reduce inflammation, are high in fiber, and are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals such as copper, folic acid, phosphorus, vitamin B6, manganese, and vitamin E.
Walnuts have a higher fat content than other nuts. When you grind them in a food processor, they get greasy, so careful not to overdo it. Most nuts get stale over time if left on your shelf for too long. You will be able to taste or smell the rancidity. I recommend freezing nuts in Ziploc bags. I usually don’t have this problem because I bake a lot and use them up. One last tip: if you want to enhance the great flavor of walnuts or any nuts for that matter, toast them lightly in the oven before using.
Today’s recipe is a delightful snack for cocktails, watching a movie, or even to give away in an attractive jar for a hostess gift. It’s best to store the finished product in a tin or jar so it doesn’t get soggy. Pecans would also work nicely with this recipe. Besides for snacking, these walnuts are a nice addition to a salad. Add them to the top of the salad after it is dressed otherwise they will lose their crunch from the moisture.
Are you nuts about walnuts, too? Please let us know at The Insider how you use them!
Candied Curry Walnuts
Yield: 1 lb.
12 oz. raw walnuts halves or pieces
2 oz. butter or margarine, melted
6 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (more if you want spicier)
Preheat oven to 350°. Line a cookie sheet with foil. Spray with pan release. Reserve.
In a medium bowl, toss together the walnuts and melted butter. In a smaller bowl, mix together the sugar and spices. Combine the sugar mixture with the nuts.
Spread the walnuts on the prepared cookie sheet in a single layer. Bake for 12 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Separate nuts with a fork.
Store in a covered tin or glass jar at room temperature. They will last a few weeks if stored properly.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.