By Marcia Pilgeram
Happy National Nut Day. Talk about timing! But it’s just a fluke, folks. I’m speaking of tree nuts and peanuts, and this is a holiday I can embrace like no other. Ever since nearly overdosing on Lay’s BBQ potato chips in the fourth grade, nuts have been my snack of choice. Back then, I ate a lot of pistachio nuts. A lot. They were inexpensive and bright pink. You have to be of a certain age to remember that before pistachios were grown in the U.S., they were mostly imported from Iran and dyed pink to mask the shells’ imperfections and discoloration. It was hard to deny you had just polished off a handful, as the telltale signs were left behind, staining your fingertips and lips.
Nuts are good for us. According to the International Nut and Dried Fruit Association, nuts like pecans, almonds and filberts (hazelnuts) are good for our hearts. They can help reduce risk factors, such as hypertension, bad cholesterol, cell damage and aging. They also report that peanuts, high in vitamin B3, B6 and magnesium, contribute to reducing tiredness and fatigue. If this is all true, I figure I should be good to go for at least another 50 years!
Most of my family is also nuts for nuts. I guess we naturally come by it. Nearly 90 years ago, my great grandparents farmed a filbert orchard in Woodburn, Ore. Decades later and farther south, I, too, harvested Oregon filberts when oldest daughter Ryanne and her husband attended graduate school in Eugene, Ore.
I would visit Ryanne and Russ several times a year (especially after the arrival of grandchild No. 3). But I cannot lie: My autumnal visit was intentionally planned around the filbert harvest at Dorris Ranch — the nation’s oldest filbert farm — located along the picturesque Willamette River in Springfield. We’d take a picnic and their little red wagon, gleaning the nuts left on the ground after the harvest. Back then, I was a high flyer with Alaska Airlines, entitled to two free luggage pieces on every flight. More than once, I left my wardrobe behind to fill a black garbage bag-lined suitcase with 50 pounds of coveted filberts.
Once home, I would spend endless evenings hand cracking the nuts before roasting and freezing them for future use. One winter, following the nut-cracking sessions, I required wrist surgery for tendonitis. Coincidence? I think not.
Everyone in my family has a different favorite nut. Some nuts did not fall far from the tree: Ryanne prefers peanuts, the same as me (and my mother before me). My son Zane is a cashew lover and Casey, the youngest, likes almonds in their natural form.
My kids are spoiled, as evident when I make up custom holiday Chex Mix batches for each of them, loaded with their favorite nut. I still use my mother’s recipe, and while modern versions only call for an hour or so of oven time, I roast mine low and slow for hours, just as she did. I remember Mom and Gram taking tired dish towels to wipe out the turkey roasters before filling them to the brim with a mix of cereal, pretzels, nuts and nips. Maybe they kept the batches in the oven for hours as an excuse for an afternoon at our worn, red Formica table, playing hearts and nipping a bit of whiskey.
The only nut we do not care for is a walnut. Maybe it’s genetic that they taste way too bitter for our tastebuds (like people with olfactory-receptor genes, who think cilantro tastes like soap). My mother used to put them in all her baked goods, but I prefer pecans and go through copious amounts with my Christmas baking. I just returned from a quick visit to North Carolina, and while I wasn’t picking them up off the ground on orchard walks, I purchased more than 20 pounds of plump, shelled pecan halves from a country road stand.
With the surge from our nasty enemy COVID-19, I was afraid there could be a shortage of Christmas baking goods, so I have been stocking my pantry in preparations. Besides the pecan stash, I have totes filled with varieties of pistachios, peanuts, filberts, almonds and pine nuts — whole, shelled, chopped, salted, raw, roasted and smoked. In a nutshell, I am ready.
Feel free to use any nut you wish when you make these highly addictive nut bars. Just do yourself a favor and make them!
This sweet-salty combination is the bomb! Equally delicious with peanuts or mixed nuts. Be sure to use salted nuts. Crust can be mixed by hand.
• 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
• 1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
• 1/4 tsp salt
• 1/2 cup light corn syrup
• 1 cup butterscotch-flavored baking chips
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 12 oz can salted peanuts (or mixed nuts)
• 1/2 tsp sea salt flakes
Heat oven to 350°F. Line 13- x 9-inch baking pan with parchment paper.
Combine all crust ingredients in bowl of stand-up mixer, blend on low, scraping bowl often, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press crumb mixture firmly onto parchment paper (or foil) lined pan. Bake 10 minutes.
With food processor, quickly pulse nuts to coarse chop (or chop coarsely by hand).
Place topping ingredients (except the nuts) in a 2-quart saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, 5-7 minutes or until chips are melted and mixture is smooth.
Sprinkle nuts over partially baked crust, pour glaze mixture over the nuts (be sure to pour evenly and into corners). Return to oven and bake another 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven. Sprinkle sea salt over warm topping. Cool completely. Cut into bars.
While we have you ...
... if you appreciate that access to the news, opinion, humor, entertainment and cultural reporting in the Sandpoint Reader is freely available in our print newspaper as well as here on our website, we have a favor to ask. The Reader is locally owned and free of the large corporate, big-money influence that affects so much of the media today. We're supported entirely by our valued advertisers and readers. We're committed to continued free access to our paper and our website here with NO PAYWALL - period. But of course, it does cost money to produce the Reader. If you're a reader who appreciates the value of an independent, local news source, we hope you'll consider a voluntary contribution. You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.
You can contribute at either Paypal or Patreon.Contribute at Patreon Contribute at Paypal