Autumn is my favourite season of the year. Next to the huge rainbow of fresh fruits and veggies, all kinds of nuts also get ripe and appear on markets and then on our tables. The nut lovers among us know how varied the kingdom of nuts is. Round, oval, big, small, long, short. The peanut, hazelnut, walnut and almond, together with the less common pistachios are for sure the five most famous nuts growing in Europe. The peanut is the only one of them that grows underground. Once the peanut fruits are ready, they simply need to be washed, dried and then one may enjoy (raw or grilled) simply by opening the bean by hand by using some pressure.
Other casings apply for other nuts. Walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and pistachios grow on bushes or trees. They all have hard shells, which sometimes are covered by a green jacket (like almonds and walnuts). Special tools have been used and developed through the years to crack and enjoy this energy-giving food. Several different kinds of nutcrackers exist nowadays: lever, screws and ratchets. The most common materials used since the early ages are metal, cast-iron or bronze. Some of the crackers are made from wood, often seen in Italy. There are documented mentionings of nutcrackers in Europe as long back as the 14th century, both in UK and France.
Since the 1500s simple nutcrackers were decorated with animals, and birds. Nuts were being placed in the mouth of these figurines and cracked using levers or screws. It was the beginning of the time of decorative nutcrackers. By the 1700s nutcrackers took on the shapes of kings, soldiers, church leaders and police officers: authoritative figures who were not popular characters at that time. The figurines represented the division in classes: the ruling one and the working one. They were a silent mockery to the powers of the rulers. The symbolism of making famous rulers or officers crushing nuts at the dining table of normal people made nutcrackers a famous home decoration all around Germany. They were whimsical, loved a lot and given as a present to loved ones. Some people often wonder about the scary tooth-bearing smiles all German nutcrackers carry. This might be explained by the notion that they protected from bad luck and scared evil from the house. Other stories tell us that the intimidating smile is a symbol of the tyranny and cruelty that oppressive kings, soldiers and the church embodied at that time.
So if you wonder if these shiny German nusskracker are able to crack nut shells nowadays, you should consider the following. The object has changed from operational nutcracker to a decorative Christmas ornament. Currently this piece of art and lovingly painted wooden figurine, is not really meant for such heavy work. Nowadays they are lovely decorations and a subtile history-reminder: colourful, beautiful, revealing stories to the curious ones and sometimes even in life-size.
Some more exotic nut relatives such as cashew nuts need special handling. The cashew grows at the end of the cashew apple. Once its picked it needs to be dried before the hard skin around it may be removed by hand or by a machine. This is a reason why finding raw cashew nuts is a challenge. Most of them undergo a long thermic process to remove the humidity in the nuts.
Are you a real nut-addict? Here are some more interesting facts. Did you know that:
- When nut shopping, have in mind that nuts keep best in their shells, not cracked. So if you dont plan to eat them all at once, you may keep the hard-shell-ones (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts) up to 1-2 years in a dark, cold place or shelf.
- All nuts without shell may be soaked for eight hours and then blended to produce a delicious almond, hazelnut or walnut milk.
- The walnut is often referred to as brain food, due to the visual copy of the brain structure. Mixed with honey it offers a real power food snack, which is great before exams or during other stressful periods.
- Most nuts are sold roasted and salted. However by enjoying the nuts raw (and soaked in advance), one gets not only the good fats inside but also plenty of vitamins and mineral as well as energy in just hand full of them.