A Tale of Two Walnuts

We have two walnut trees, both of them young. The older of the two gave us a few walnuts last year and one the year before. This year it gave us several good handfuls of nuts.

That’s not anywhere close to satisfying our annual walnut consumption. We put walnuts in granola, baked goods, burgers, tofu meatballs, and rice pilaf, among other things. We eat them as snacks, too, and I buy them in kilo-sized bags.

But walnuts here are all the mild English walnut (Juglans regia). They’re a good staple, but somewhat tame. Not something to feature in a dish.

Not like American walnuts (Juglans nigra). To me, these are the true walnuts–piney-flavoured and bitter, difficult to shell, with thick green husks that leave your fingers black. There aren’t many foods from the US that I miss anymore, but American walnuts are one of them.

When I was a kid, every Christmas my mother made walnut crescents–moon-shaped shortbread cookies packed with American walnuts and rolled in confectioner’s sugar. They melted on the tongue, and burst with nutty flavour. I made the mistake of making these with English walnuts once. They were vapid little sugar bombs. Not at all like real walnut crescents.

I have looked high and low for American walnuts here in New Zealand, with no luck. One time I saw a label in the grocery story saying “American walnuts”, and I was thrilled. Then I looked at what they were selling. The nuts weren’t American walnuts, they were English walnuts grown in America.

So I buy the cultured, mild-mannered English variety and dream of the wild, brash variety of my homeland.

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