This winter, when you are eating a slice of pecan pie while listening to “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” after just having gone seen “The Nutcracker” at the North Carolina Ballet… perhaps you may be wondering, why nuts? I remember a bowl of uncracked nuts with a nutcracker laying across them was a fixture on the coffee table at this time of year growing up. In our world where any food is available at any time, it may help to understand these traditions if we remember times when this wasn’t so.
Starting in September and lasting until mid-November, you may notice walking down the sidewalk that nuts are all around you! Acorns crunch under your feet and under you car tires… You may see strong-smelling, green, tennis-ball-sized husks housing dark, wild-tasting black walnuts staining the sidewalk. If you are really lucky, you’ll notice a pecan tree dropping its treasures for you to stomp on and pick up for a tasty treat.
Winter nut traditions are the obvious next step! Foraged and farm-grown nut groves would have provided a valuable source of rich protein that is perfect for the decadence of the holiday season. And at a time of year when other harvests and food processing are at a year-long low, there is time for the slow task of sitting around cracking nuts. My grandmother tells me stories of her and her five siblings having the laborious task of cracking and picking black walnuts on their farm to make extra Christmas money at this time of year. Back when English walnuts were still a more rare commodity, their wild American cousins were a valuable resource and in high demand at Christmas time!
At our upcoming event, Hot Nuts & Cider, we want to bring back that sense of laid-back, communal productivity while enjoying a warm beverage around a hot fire. Come join us and you’ll have a chance to get crackin’ and then eat the fruits of your labor roasted over an open flame. Then perhaps this holiday season when you are eating that pecan pie, listening to “chestnuts roasting,” or coming home from “The Nutcracker,” you’ll feel a tug back from the days when nuts were worth making a big deal about!
Now here’s a little something extra to try with those nuts…
shelled nuts (pecans, hickory nuts, black walnuts)
Use whatever nuts are most available to you for this decadent treat. Pecans will give you a lighter, toasty flavor, black walnuts a darker more evergreen flavor, and hickory nuts somewhere in between.
Soak the nut of choice for about 45 minutes to an hour in water to remove any bitterness. Strain the nut pieces, spread on a cookie sheet, and season with salt.
Roast at 350 until they darken and are very fragrant (about 15 minutes). Allow to cool.
Place roasted nuts in a clean, wide-mouth jar and top with bourbon until nuts are fully covered. Feel free to add a vanilla bean or orange zest at this point.
Allow to sit for about one week, shaking daily. Strain into clean glass bottles and enjoy. Save those nuts! And use in your favorite nut-based dessert… bourbon-soaked pecan pie anyone?
It’s best to use your new pecan liqueur in simple cocktails where it can really shine. Think of shaking it up with a few splashes of bitters, a sliver of orange zest, and a dash of maple syrup!