Walnuts and I have a rough history, a long-standing feud of stubbornness that I’ve only recently come to understand as being a massive error on my part.
And it all goes back, innocently, to my childhood and the fresh baked treats that Mom supplied us with endlessly. Just about everything she made had walnuts in it, and I thoroughly despised the little nuggets, endlessly picking them out of my chocolate chip cookies, my banana bread, my pumpkin bread and anything else that she felt impelled to stuff with those icky things. I used to watch in despair as she pulled the sack out of the cupboard, and groan once again “Walnuts! Why do you ALWAYS put walnuts in everything!?” to which she would always reply in that ‘Mom’ tone “When you bake your own cookies, you can do whatever you want.” and I was pretty powerless to argue THAT point. This coming from a Mom who would rise before the break of day in the summertime so she could bake cookies before it got too hot outside. The Mom who scorned margarine for real butter and always asked us what favorites we wanted her to make. I couldn’t get past those walnuts though. And true to my baking heritage, when I got older and baked in my own kitchen, there were never walnuts in my chocolate chip cookies. Or my banana bread. Or in my house, for that matter.
I recall a time, lingering over a steaming coffee at some non-descript coffee house, that I wandered to the bakery case with a growl in my tummy and innocently asked for a piece of banana bread. Back at my table, I broke off a chunk and with my eyes firmly focused on the magazine I was reading, popped the bite in my mouth and began to chew. Suddenly a familiar, but not so familiar taste spread over my tongue and I stared down at the slice on the plate in front of me. There, staring back was the unmistakeable shape of walnuts. In my banana bread. My tummy went ‘Errrrr….gurgle’ and the welcoming chunk of bread, rich with bananas and cinnamon beckoned me. I realized though, that whatever taste was in my mouth seemed a far cry from that of my youth, the dreaded taste of pasty walnuts. I meticulously picked a chunk of nut from the bread, and with a deep intake of courage, I stuck it in my mouth.
‘This couldn’t possibly be a walnut.’ I thought to myself. ‘It tastes….. good!’ I took another bite of the bread and there it was again, the texture so familiar, but the flavor so foreign. It tasted nutty, moist and tender; it was crunchy not mealy. It was a nut that I had shunned and crossed my eyes at for my entire lifetime and here I was, enjoying it and wide-eyed at the experience. What the heck! Had I really grown up that much? Crossed the threshold of petulant youth to that of an open-minded adult with equally open-minded tastebuds? Had I been “gasp” wrong this whole time about walnuts??
I stretched myself even further by purchasing some walnuts fresh from the bin at the local co-op and chopping them up for a pumpkin muffin I made at home. I was hesitant, wondering if the whole batch was going to end up in the trash. But the first bite was another eye-opener and the muffins were delicious. I even took a walnut out of the bag and ate it, plain. I felt 10 feet tall too. The only thing that saved it from being a celestial experience was that I couldn’t call my Mom and tell her, triumphantly, that I found out I enjoyed walnuts. I think that I felt her smiling down at me from above though.
What I realized, and with quite a shock of clarity is that the walnuts my Mom purchased always came from the baking aisle at the supermarket, and likely were rancid and old, leaving a stale and metallic taste in my mouth. Walnuts have a high fat content, and need to be kept fresh. I like to keep all my bulk nuts in the freezer so they last a long time. Without that old and yucky taste in my mouth, I found that walnuts were as enjoyable as other nuts I’ve incorporated into my diet such as almonds, pistachios, pecans and peanuts. I grew up not liking nuts much at all until I learned how awesome fresh ones can be, and now I purchase nearly all of our nuts from the bulk bins at the markets.
This isn’t the first time that I’ve learned to appreciate a food that had been black-listed in my kitchen. We tend to tie our dislike of foods to personal taste, but what I’ve discovered is that often it can be traced to either a lack of freshness or an incorrect cooking procedure that makes a food unpalatable. Mike told me when we first met that he didn’t like salmon, but his past experiences with it came down to it being over-cooked, which turned it dry and rubbery. Once he ate a piece of perfectly cooked salmon, he never looked back and now he requests salmon often.
Looking for something delicious for those walnuts? This Date Nut Bread is amazing. You could try adding them to this hearty Overnight Muesli too, in addition to the almonds, and they could also be substituted for the pecans in these Pumpkin Maple Muffins.