Every Christmas, my mom bought a big sack of mixed nuts at the Piggly Wiggly and poured them into a wooden bowl with a leggy nutcracker pushed halfway down, an invitation for whoever had the courage to take on this nutcracking business.
Usually — and solely — this was my father, who enjoyed cracking nuts the way my younger brother and I loved ripping open presents under the tree. For him, nuts were part of the holidays. I wasn’t interested in all the work required.
Now I get it.
The other night in Paris, at my friend Catherine’s flat, she and I cracked open walnuts that had just fallen from her trees in Normandy — still fresh and the insides a little bit soft — and nibbled on them as we drank champagne. They’ll be even better in a few months, when the meat firms up a bit, she told me. She keeps them in a basement-like cave so they won’t spoil and uses them throughout the next year, until a new crop is ready.
Winter, indeed, is the season of nuts — walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, chestnuts and, in Texas, pecans. No wonder we all get so crazy for nuts this time of year, baking all sorts of nutty pies, tossing them into cookies and cakes and, of course, roasting them on an open fire — as the famous Christmas Song says.
Even simpler is making nuts for snacks at cocktail parties or while watching a favorite late-night movie, and nuts to pour into jars and give as gifts for the holidays. Here are some of my favorite recipes for homemade nuts to share from the kitchen.