Sunday, November 3, 2013
Ten Pounds of Walnuts
I've never been a really big fan of walnuts. In fact, I spent most of my life as an anti-fan. A non-lover. I didn't particularly care for walnuts. I would tolerate them in baked goods if there wasn't a plain option. But if I had to rank nuts of the world in order from best to worst, walnuts would have landed toward the bottom of the list, down there with Brazil nuts. Blah.
Things changed dramatically last fall when my generous co-worker brought me some walnuts fresh off her tree. Oh boy. Let me tell you, there IS a difference between fresh walnuts and the junk they sell in sealed plastic bags at the grocery store. As is the case with nearly every other food product know to man, fresh is better. Way better. There is something about the crunch and flavor and texture that is so different in a fresh walnut. They actually taste good! Truly. If you have never eaten fresh walnuts (and by fresh, I mean ones that are in the shell and came off the tree this season), do yourself a favor. Go get some.
I got a little carried away at the Farmer's Market last weekend when I saw a friendly gentleman selling walnuts. I've seen walnuts at the market before, but they were processed, salted, roasted, or candied and sold in sealed plastic bags. Still good, still pretty fresh and relatively local, but not the same as getting the whole nut right off the tree. This guy was selling walnuts. Plain ol' walnuts, still in the shell, grown a few short miles from my front door. (It literally would have been a shorter drive for me to go to his orchard than to go to the market to buy the silly walnuts....sigh.) You could scoop up your desired quantity and buy them by the pound, or take advantage of the 10-pound bags he had conveniently put together for suckers like me.
I say suckers because, as my husband wisely pointed out, "You know they sell those things without the shell, right?"
Yes, I know. You can buy walnuts shelled, but they are more expensive. And probably not as fun. And if you buy the shelled kind, you wouldn't have mounds of walnut shells to sprinkle in your garden to keep the snails away. (Bonus!! Free, eco-friendly pest control!) And when you go to bake something with walnuts, you would just open the container and scoop out some nuts. I mean, there is no magic or romance in THAT! It's much more fun to sit on the couch for an hour to shell enough walnuts to put in your muffins. Right??
OK. Maybe not. Convenience is not really the draw of the 10-pound bag of walnuts. It's just that they taste better. And there is something that feels rustic and old fashioned about putting in the labor, cracking the nuts yourself and trying to get those beautiful halves to come out in as few pieces as possible. As an added bonus, the whole process is so intriguing to my kids, they have decided that they actually like walnuts now too! That's a serious mommy win right there. For real.
Needless to say, we have been in walnut production mode for the past week. I've been madly Googling walnut recipes in between shelling sessions. I have learned that walnuts can keep for up to a year in the shell if stored in a cool place (back of the fridge or in the freezer), which is good to know. So, if I lose steam on this walnut idea I can always stash some in the fridge for later use.
My first walnut experiment was with Cinnamon Candied Walnuts. I like sweet/cinnamon walnuts but I'm not into the thick, sugary coated stuff. This recipe was great. It adds a little sweetness and spice to the nuts without being sticky or overpowering. I found the 400 degree temperature to be a little high as my nuts were smelling toasty after about 5 minutes. I would recommend turning down the heat to about 350, and stirring every 5 minutes to make sure you don't burn the nuts.
I was feeling pretty good about my first attempt at candied walnuts, and decided to try a different flavor combination, Candied Balsamic Rosemary Walnuts. It sounded a little different, and well, it was different alright. Unfortunately this experiment got thumbs down from the whole family. The walnuts ended up tasting a little bitter, and the flavor just wasn't quite right. I generally love rosemary and balsamic, but this combo just missed the mark for our family taste testers. If you have the urge to try some, please stop by. We've got a lot of leftovers to share!
After the rosemary fiasco, I decided to go a different direction and looked at some baked goods that I could spice up with walnuts. I used my tried-and-true recipe for Baked Oatmeal and tossed some walnuts and dried apples into the mix. These come out like a super-dense oatmeal muffin, and are the perfect, quick breakfast for busy mornings.
If you're keeping score at home, we are one week into our 10-pound Walnut Experiment and we've had one new recipe success, one new recipe failure, and we've burned through about 3-4 pounds of walnuts just eating them out of the shell, sprinkling on salads or adding to assorted baked goods.
Six pounds to go. What's your favorite walnut recipe?? Please share so my entire family doesn't end up with walnut gifts for Christmas.
They all thank you in advance.