The state of California grows 90% of the tree nuts in the United States. This includes almost all almonds, pistachios and walnuts. The states of Georgia, New Mexico and Texas produce about 75% of the U.S. pecan crop. These four nuts together are the most popular in the U.S., with overall annual nut consumption at an average of 3.97 pounds per person. Almonds, however, hold the largest market share by far. Surprisingly, organic nuts only account for 1% of the nut market, except in California where the organic market share rose a whooping 44% between 2008 and 2011. California accounts for 85% of all U.S. organic nut sales. It’s in this category that almonds shine as well, accounting for 45% of all organic nut sales. Talk about your health nuts!
While shopping for a recent family dinner, a display of mixed nuts - still nestled in their shells - captured my eye at the local market. I scooped up a pound, brought them home and put them in an ornate china nut bowl, also inherited and never used for its true purpose. Searching for my nutcracker, I prayed that I hadn’t disposed of it in one of my occasional “oh, I never use this!” expeditions through my jam-packed kitchen gizmo drawers. But there it was, wedged beneath a clunky ravioli cutter and old shish-ka-bob sticks. I pulled it out and rested it atop the nuts in the pretty china bowl, then set it on the sideboard, waiting to be noticed.
In came the grandmothers. “Ooh, filberts!” squealed one, “I haven’t had one of these in years!” Such excitement hadn’t been expressed since the birth of the last grandchild. My teenage and young adult children and their significant others hung over the bowl with the old-timers, as if seeing something new for the first time. That’s hard to do these days. “What’s that one?” they each asked in turn, and the guessing would begin. Brazil nuts, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts. There were nuts they’d never heard of or even tasted before, as well as a new technique to be learned for the cracking of each different variety. A macadamia cracks quite differently from a pecan, after all.
A new tradition had been born, or reborn, in our home. Try in in your own, and relish the sound of cracking and laughter that occurs around the nut bowl. Who knew an age-old gadget could teach us some new things?
(Previously published in Edible Ocean County, California)