Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Walnuts from the Perigord

Walnuts figure largely into the traditions of the Dordogne Region. Shells found at archeological sites show that humans have enjoyed the flavor and benefits of this hardy nut since early times. Oil pressed from walnuts was used in lamps.

At some point the walnut was a symbol of the union of marriage. Two complicated pieces joined at a delicate point.

During the Middle Ages physicians felt the walnut would relieve migraines because the inner nut so resembled the human brain.

With soil rich in calcium and a mild, humid climate this region is perfect for walnut production. Most homes have at least one tree, if one doesn’t have a tree you know where to walk along the farm roads and find windfalls in the ditches.

Machines have been created that can gather the nuts in the fall, but there is no replacement for the need to crack these meaty nuts by hand. Each person has their own technique, a quick punch of the hand, a tap with a hammer, nutcrackers like pinchers and the new fangled nutcrackers that are pretty much idiot proof. Guess which one we have. Whatever it takes to keep the meat in two neat pieces. 

There are many ways to appreciate this nut. Freshly cracked on a salad. As walnut oil, a taste of earth, smoke and other senses indescribable, pressed into an oil that is the Dordogne region version of Vermont Maple Syrup. And if you have made a good enough impression on a ‘local’, one might even be offered the elixir of life – a vin de noix, walnut wine. A concoction made with the entire green nut soaked in eau de vie (water of life)- moonshine! A taste of green, leaves, nutshells – every sip is savored and takes one back to the land –flavors that can only be produced by mother earth. And then there is a walnut cake.  A simple elegant way to end a hearty meal.

Walnut Cake
125 grams of chopped almonds
125 grams of chopped walnuts
125 grams of butter
300 grams of sugar
6 eggs

Separate the eggs. Reserve the whites.  Mix the yolks with the sugar.  Add the chopped nuts. Melt the butter, not too hot and mix in with nut mixture. Whip the egg whites until stiff and incorporate gently. Place into a pie shaped dish, buttered and floured. Bake at 225 Celsius for 30 minutes.
Decorate with walnut halves. Drizzle with chocolate if you like.

1 comment:

Diane said...

Lovely post. I've never seen one of those new-fangled nut crackers. Do they really make it easier? We have a walnut tree and some years make Italian nocino...delicious! Sometimes we mix it with homemade wine and it is also good that way. Maybe this summer we'll try the French version when we are in Paris.