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Walnuts origins uses recipes

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Walnuts are the fruit of  a large deciduous tree belonging to the family Juglandaceae. Of the  60 varieties  about 20 are edible. They are unique amongst nuts because  most of the fat in walnuts is polyunsaturated  which are said to lower cholesterol.


Origin and History of Walnuts


The  specieis Juglans regia, also known as the English, Persian or Common Walnut is  the species most often cultivated for culinary use. It originates in eastern Europe and eastward to the Himalayan mountains, although  there are other Juglans  native to the Americas and Asia.


The  earliest records of  the growing of orchards of walnut trees date back to the classical Greek and Roman times although in the Périgord  region in Southwest France, excavations have revealed  fossilised shells of the nuts which were roasted during the Neolithic period, more than eight thousand years ago. 


The  Latin name Juglans Regia is derived from the name Jovis glans which translates to  “Jupiter’s Acorn”. This description comes from the classical golden age when it was said that while ordinary men lived on Acorns, Jupiter and his fellow gods feasted on walnuts. The modern name however comes from the German Wallnuss which means “foreign nut”.


The growing of walnut groves in Europe took off  in the 1500's however they are now grown worldwide with California being the largest producer.


Cultivation, Processing and Storage of Walnuts


Walnut trees thrive in temperate zones and require deep but well drained alluvial type soils.  After an orchard is planted, it takes approximately seven years before its first yield however, once established it will continue to bear quality fruit for as long as 100 years.


The main harvesting of the mature fruit (nuts)  takes place in the autumn but the immature green fruit can also be harvested in the summer before the hard shell has formed. These soft fruit are processed by soaking in a strong brine solution then dried until they turn black. They are then pickled in vinegar and are excellent served with cold meats and cheeses and are especially good with cold roast turkey and ham. They have the added benefit of keeping for several years if stored in an air-tight jar.

Harvesting of the matured nuts begins when the protective green hulls containing the brown nut split. A mechanical shaker is used commercially and once shaken to the ground, mechanical harvesters pick them up for cleaning and hulling.  They are then transferred into a hopper where they are air-dried to 8% moisture level. This prevents deterioration of the nut and protects its quality during storage. Before modern mechanization they were dried in the sun.


The nuts are then either sold as they are or mechanically cracked and shelled then packaged. They  are also processed into oil. Walnut Oil has a strong nutty flavour which is excellent when drizzled over fish, steaks,  pasta and salad leaves as well as in salad dressings.  It is not suitable as a cooking oil: not only is it expensive but high temperatures destroy its flavour and can make it taste bitter.


Shelled walnuts should be kept refrigerated in an airtight container when they will last for a few weeks.  They can also  be frozen up to a year. For long-term storage, it's best to buy unshelled nuts and store them in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 months or freeze up to one year. 



Walnuts in cooking


Walnuts can be used in a variety of  sweet and savoury recipes including cakes and breads and are especially good with cheeses. They make a decorative garnish and are a reasonable substitute for pecan nuts.





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