Sweet, nutty treat was an aunt's recipe legacy
Monday, April 22, 2013 3:34 AM
I read a Facebook post recently that is responsible for the recipe included with this column. My Aunt Lois's granddaughter posted a request for recipes that Lois once made. I immediately thought of her sugared walnuts.
Once when I visited her at her southern California home, she got out a coffee can of frozen walnut halves. While she heated them in her oven, on the stove she mixed up a simple mixture of water, sugar and cinnamon and cooked it.
After adding vanilla, she stirred in the walnuts and then poured them out on a greased plate. I think this simple treat is similar to those fragrant smelling pecan halves sold at fair time in paper cones.
Because Lois had a walnut tree on her property, walnuts came cheap - but she did need to crack each nut and dig out the meat herself. After watching her make these, I copied down the directions on a recipe card she gave me.
It's been a number of years since she died of ovarian cancer. So now I can only remember the times I stopped by and visited her, but more likely it would be remembering when she came to Minnesota.
During my childhood, this was every couple of years and when I would also see my cousin and her daughter, Chris, who is the same age as I am. Although our personalities were quite different, I adored Chris. She was outgoing, I was introspective.
She was, for many years, the only child in her family. I had a plethora of brothers.
During the year I would write letters to her and she to me. Now-a-days, we email. I hear from Chris several times each week. She has lived a few different places and currently lives in Utah. Her niece, who posted the Facebook request, actually lives in Rochester.
It's been a few years since I went to California to see Lois or Chris. And now Lois has passed away. But in my mind's eye, I can still see Lois's house, which was near one of those great big freeways tying the Los Angeles area together like a giant web.
My last visit was a few months after she died, when Chris and I visited her house. Without Lois's laughter, it seemed like an odd, damp shell. It rained in a downpour the last time I was there, unlike other visits when it was hot and arid.
Once Lois visited my farmhouse during the summer, the season she usually came to Minnesota. I had gone out and gathered raspberries to serve my guests. Lois looked in amazement at the giant bowl of sugared berries and asked me if I knew how much they were worth?
I just laughed, since for me they were as cheap to collect from my bushes as her English walnuts were, when she harvested them from her tree.
Tonight, I am finally feeling the spirit of spring. All it took was a little sunshine and warm enough temps to get outside after work today and remove some of the dried foliage from my perennial bed at the front of my house. I have been yearning to get out there for weeks now.
I realize there is even more snow forecast in the days ahead, but I also believe spring really is coming. The days are longer and there's only an occasional patch of snow. There is hope.
Tonight for supper I had a meal of lettuce greens, pickled beets, pistachio nuts, cottage cheese and dressing. This is a meal for spring. In a month we should be eating early lettuce greens fresh from the garden.
When we were up north at our cabin a week ago, I found my raised bed planter was cleared of snow and the sandy soil wasn't frozen. So I sprinkled a variety of spinach, lettuce, radish, beet and chard seeds on the surface.
Last year when I prepared the bed, it was a very hot, dry summer and spring had long passed before I had it ready. Then I found that between it being so dry and too shaded, the seeds that germinated didn't do so well.
Now, I have a different hope. In the spring, before the trees leaf out, my cool season seeds will germinate and grow as the snow subsides. The last melting snows will water my seeds. We might be harvesting lettuce and radishes by Memorial Day.
My granddaughter, Kylie, convinced me to plant a few strawberry plants in one end, so perhaps a bit later there will be a few fruits for the grandkids to pick and eat.
Then again, perhaps the deer will simply have a feast of their own. Time will tell, but dreams are what builds hope in our lives.
I am printing this recipe for Terra Utter, my Aunt Lois's granddaughter.
Sugared Walnut Halves
2 1/2 cups walnut halves
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Heat walnut halves in a 325 degree oven for 15 minutes. Cool.
Cook the sugar, water, cinnamon and salt in a heavy saucepan to the softball stage without stirring. If using a candy thermometer clipped to the pan, that's 238 degrees. Remove from the heat, add vanilla and nuts. Stir the mixture until it starts thickening. Turn out on a greased plate and separate the nuts with a fork.
Cool and store in a covered container.