Walnuts by Old Dog Ranch
The nutcracker sits under the holiday tree, a guardian of childhood stories. Feed him walnuts and he will crack open a tale…. ~Vera Nazarian
A big bowl of walnuts resting on a coffee table draws people together to engage in conversation while enjoying the thrill of cracking open a shell in search of the rich nutmeat inside. When I was a child, we would kneel around the table and struggle to apply enough force to break open the shell but not so much as to smash the nutmeat. Those of us who succeeded were rewarded with a large walnut half while those who used brute force were left with nutmeat crumbs – still tasty but more difficult to separate from the unwanted parts: the smashed shell and dry nut skin. Walnuts have a way of bringing people together and imparting lifelong lessons.
Today, most people are more likely to have a bag of shelled walnuts in the pantry than on the coffee table. We use the kitchen countertop to gather ingredients, weigh, measure, and blend, often adding an extra ingredient to enhance the flavor or texture of a dish. One of those extra ingredients is often walnuts – a nut that adds flavor and crunch to many baked goods including banana bread, brownies, cakes, fudge, and cookies. But, walnuts are also delicious raw or lightly toasted in granola, a trail mix or rice pilaf, crumbled on top of oatmeal or a salad, added to cranberry relish, or maple glazed and spiced with cinnamon.
Most walnuts grown in the United States are from California and harvested between August and October of each year. The most popular walnut grown in California is known as the Chandler Walnut: a large, smooth, and oval-shaped nut with an exceptionally thin shell making the nut easy to crack. A high quality nut prized for its light golden color kernel (nutmeat), the Chandler Walnut has a sweet taste with little to no bitterness (because of its relatively low acidity level compared to other walnut varieties). Harvested between late September to early October, there is no better time to buy walnuts than now.
As with nearly every food, freshly harvested raw nuts offer the best flavor, color and nutrient density. Deep in the Central Valley, where a large portion of our agriculture is grown, is an area called the San Joaquin Valley where the fifth generation of Old Dog Ranch continues to grow and harvest Chandler Walnuts every Autumn. Full of protein, fiber, and essential fatty acids (primarily Omega 3 and Omega 6), the Chandler Walnuts are organically grown (scheduled to be certified in 2015). Light, crunchy, and delicious, Old Dog Ranch walnuts are delicious raw, lightly toasted, or with added spices.
Old Dog Ranch sells their Chandler Walnuts at local farmer’s markets but the nutmeats can also be purchased from their on-line store at www.olddogranch.com. The nuts come in five varieties:
- Raw: Perfect for cooking and baking.
- Toasted: Lightly toasted and highly versatile – use in pilaf, salads, granola, oatmeal, and more.
- Candied: Lightly tossed with organic vanilla extract and an organic sugar cinnamon blend, and then toasted to perfection. Delicious to enjoy out of the bag or on salads.
- Rosemary: Tossed with fresh organic rosemary, a little organic olive oil, kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, and then toasted to perfection. The perfect appetizer.
- Dark Chocolate: Covered in rich dark cocoa. A delicious after dinner treat.
The walnuts are sold in a snack size bag for $9 or 1 pound bags for $16-$20, depending on the variety. Old Dog Ranch also makes walnut butters. For more information on the company and their products, go to the company website listed above.