For as long as I can remember there were nuts at Christmas, of course the nutcrackers always went missing - only to be found down the back of the sofa in July - so strong teeth were a must. I loved those red string bags full of exotic wooden stones –
Brazils, almonds, walnuts and
hazels. In order my preference was and remains hazels, Brazils,
walnuts and almonds.
I didn’t really believe that Brazil nuts came from all the way from deepest Brazil (as they do), but then I was told that walnuts came from Persia, almonds from Spain and hazel nuts were gathered by red squirrels from deep in the forests of a fictitious magical England that probably never existed outside of a Charles Dickens story. Even so, nuts are pure nostalgia and as a result I buy a bag of nuts every year and then find that they are still hanging around the following October still waiting to be eaten. This year though I’ve decided to change all that and eat the nuts I bought, even if I didn’t eat a single one during the festivities.
Now that the Christmas glut is over and my stomach can face them I’m actually doing quite well. I did try pre-shelled bags, but it really wasn’t the same; maybe it’s the fact that there’s no challenge involved. There’s no substitute for the crack as the nut yields to the cracker and each type has its very own sound as it cracks. Hazel nuts have a sharp pistol-like crack,
have a high pitched maraca sound, walnuts a deep corky pop, and almonds an
almost tinny snap. The cracking of nuts requires practice. You have to know
where to place the nut in the nutcrackers, dependent on size and type, and
pressure is paramount; squeeze the crackers too hard and you will be left
picking your nuts up in tiny morsels whilst nursing a very sore eye.
- Hazel nuts are not a problem. They crack really easily and taste so wonderfully woody, unless of course you get one of those sneaky ones that look fine until you bite into them to taste that musty ‘I’m a dead nut’ taste.
- Walnuts can be easy to split down the middle as long as you take care. But I can’t help thinking of brains as I remove the nut out of the shell and, whilst I love them, they do taste slightly of dust.
- The almonds are always the last to go. They are not the ideal shape for nutcrackers and can be incredibly hard to crack. Even when I manage it I’m not at all sure that the effort is worth it. I think I prefer my almonds grated in cakes or toasted in a nice biryani.
Yes, I know I'm nuts. Of course I have still a bag of chestnuts waiting to be roasted on an open fire. I suppose I’d better get on with them before they turn to nut dust.