Califonia Bountiful

The Farmer and the Foodie: Get cracking! It's party season

Nov./Dec. 2010 California Country magazine

The farmer and the foodie go nuts over these holiday ingredients.

November signals the official beginning of party season. It's time to dig out those family recipes so lovingly passed down from generation to generation or seek out a new recipe to add to your collection.

Farmer: It's also the time of year when California farmers are busy gathering and processing their tree nut production. Nuts, including walnuts, almonds, pistachios and macadamias, are a major part of California agriculture. Some farmers here grow pecans and chestnuts as well.

Foodie: Macadamias are grown in California? I don't think I've ever seen a macadamia tree.

Farmer: After Hawaii, California ranks second in the country's production of macadamias. Although the nuts originated in Australia, they grow beautifully in the Southern California climate. Macadamias grow in clusters. Like other tree nuts, they have a green outer husk that splits when the nuts are mature. The husk is removed and the nuts are air dried before shelling. Because shelling macadamias is a challenge, consumers usually find them already shelled.

Foodie: Most of my party food recipes call for almonds and walnuts, although pistachios are fast becoming one of my favorite ingredients.

Farmer: Almost all U.S. pistachios are grown in California and production of pistachios in the state is about 75 years old.

California's 6,000 almond growers produce 100 percent of the commercial domestic supply and nearly 80 percent of the world's supply of almonds. There are more than 30 types of almonds, but nonpareil is the most popular for eating and baking. It's the largest almond with a flatter shape and lighter caramel color. Consumers find them in grades called fancy and extra fancy, which refers to the size and quality. Extra fancy means there are 18 to 22 almonds per ounce.

As for English walnuts, California produces nearly all of the nation's crop. Chandler variety is becoming quite popular because it is large and has a light tan color, but the Hartley variety is most widely grown. It has a nuttier flavor.

Foodie: When buying nuts, I always look for even, unblemished, dry shells.

Farmer: Also keep in mind that pistachios should be naturally cracked. The unopened ones are immature and won't have the flavor you are looking for. Walnuts should not make a noise when you shake them. If you hear a rattle, that means the kernels are dry. Nuts are high in fat content so they can turn rancid if not stored properly. Plan to use shelled nuts within four months or freeze them for longer storage. Unshelled nuts will stay fresh about six months if stored in a dry, cool place.

Foodie: I consider nuts a guilt-free indulgence. They are high in fat, but it's monounsaturated (good) fat, which helps reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Nuts are less expensive if you buy them in the shell, but buying them already shelled is certainly more convenient. When buying nuts, figure 1 pound of nuts in the shell will equal approximately 8 ounces or 1 1/2 cups shelled.

Toasting will bring out the flavor of nuts. Spread them in an ungreased, shallow baking pan and roast uncovered for about 30 minutes to an hour at 300 degrees, stirring often. They can also be toasted on the stovetop in a dry, medium-hot skillet. Just keep stirring until they turn a nice golden color.

Kiwifruit: Deceptively delicious

With its fuzzy, brown peel, kiwifruit—or kiwi—certainly doesn't look like much on the outside, but inside it's packed with WOW. Not only is this little fruit a powerhouse of nutrition, it has an amazing flavor some people describe as a combination of straw- berries and pineapple. Inside are edible, glossy seeds that give it an interesting crunch.

  • California farmers produce about 95 percent of all kiwifruit grown in the United States.
  • When buying kiwifruit, the fruit should be firm but with a slight give similar to a ripe avocado. There should be no soft or bruised spots.
  • Harvest begins in early fall, but they will stay fresh for a month or longer when stored in the refrigerator.
  • The flavor of kiwifruit is wonderful with grilled fish or chicken. You can also add slices to a beef marinade and it will help tenderize the meat.
  • To peel kiwifruit, slice off the stem end, then use a vegetable peeler to
  • remove the brown outer layer.
  • One kiwifruit provides 140 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C. Two kiwifruit contain more fiber than a bowl of bran cereal.


Warm bar nuts

The aroma alone makes these nuts irresistible! Adapted from The Union Square Café Cookbook, HarperCollins Publishers.

1 1/4 lb. mixed, unsalted nuts including walnuts, pecans, almonds, pistachios and macadamias
2 tbsp. coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
2 tsp. dark brown sugar
2 tsp. kosher (coarse-grained) salt
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread nuts on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven until they turn a light golden brown, about 10 minutes. In a large bowl combine rosemary, sugar, salt, cayenne and butter. Add warm nuts to spice mixture and toss until evenly coated. Serve warm.

Note: For a party appetizer, you can keep these warm in a slow cooker for several hours (if they last that long!).

Makes 5 cups

California kiwi chicken salad

This recipe from the California Kiwifruit Commission is a tasty way to combine walnuts and kiwi. Scoop it over salad greens or use it as a sandwich filling.

1 1/2 cups cubed cooked chicken
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
3 tbsp. mayonnaise
1/4 tsp. salt
1 kiwifruit, pared and sliced

Combine chicken, celery, walnuts, mayonnaise and salt. Spoon onto 2 lettuce-lined salad plates. Garnish each serving with kiwifruit slices.

Serves 2

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