First, a little gentle misogyny. Have you heard the rhyme which goes: “A woman, a dog and a walnut tree; the harder they are beaten, the better they will be”? Well, perhaps not gentle as far as the first two are concerned but beating the tree is supposed to knock off dead branches which could spread disease. I suppose you’d call that the original walnut whip. Ouch!
Every Christmas my brother Adrian in Norfolk sends me an eagerly anticipated box containing a bottle of single malt whisky and several pounds walnuts from the tree in his back garden. I have noticed the size of the bottle decrease but the quantity – and quality – of the walnuts increase. The current crop is excellent and he keeps me in walnuts for half the year.
He reports the crop was especially plentiful this year, as opposed to the previous one, largely due to winning a little war with the neighbourhood squirrels. I shall draw a veil over what happened.
I use them in salads and in English pesto, instead of pine kernels. The herb is still basil in the winter but I replace that with sage, mint and marjoram when my pot herbs are flourishing in spring and summer. They also go well in cakes and artisan bread. I’m about to experiment with a Doris Grant no-knead loaf with walnuts.
I have no idea whether my brother beats his tree but the quality is good. You can crack the shells open with one hand (even my granddaughters can do it) which is a good sign that they are not too old. It’s best to leave the kernels in the shells until needed because they keep better. I think the kernels you buy must be treated.
The English walnut, Juglans regia, comes from Persia and was presumably brought here by the Romans, another good thing they did for us. Walnuts usually only appear in the shops around Christmas but you can find them quite easily in continental grocers such as Ozmen on London Road. Persian cooking uses a lot of walnuts, often roasted and ground and partnered with pomegranates in stews. My dad used to like pickled walnuts (done when they are still green) but that is an acquired taste.
Of all nuts, walnuts are said to be the best for health, being particularly good for the heart and memory loss, so I shall keep nibbling. Thanks for the nuts Adrian and the whisky is very good, too.