Wednesday 20th November 2019
I've been watching the squirrels scurrying around the garden for a few weeks now and although I do love to see their soft bodies ripple over the fences, I do sometimes feel rather annoyed at them. They unfortunately have a hungry interest in one of the tastiest things in my garden currently - the walnut, and I love them! This year has shown a rather meagre glut of these wonderful nuts, so I have been feeling a little protective of them.
You may have your own hoard of walnuts in your garden or perhaps greedily purchased the net bags of them at the supermarket, now that the Christmas produce is about. Wherever you find them, they are incredibly delicious and full of fantastic nutrition.
The walnut is one of the oldest tree food known to man, dating back to 7000BC, originating from Persia. The common walnut - Juglans regia, is a slow growing medium/large tree that is native to Asia, producing a highly regarded robust nut to both bargain with and consume over the ages. By the Middle Ages the walnut was part of our English heritage and we were cultivating them too.
So, that's the story on the nutrition? We have all heard by now that nuts are high in fat, and we are trying to reduce that, right? Well, in a sense there is some truth in this. Walnuts are high in fat, but not the sort of fat that we should be trying to reduce or avoid as part of a healthy diet. The fats in walnuts are the heart healthy monounsaturated fats and also provide an excellent source of those hard to find omega-3 fatty acids. There is also vitamin E in walnuts, which is known to keep the heart healthy and can offer protection against coronary heart disease. So, a great heart friendly nut.
Other useful nutrients found in walnuts are iron, selenium, calcium, zinc and some B vitamins, so they are a really useful ingredient to be adding to your diet.
When freshly cracked and ripe, they are milky sweet with a creamy texture that are a joy to eat on their own. I am always delighted with the fact all of these walnuts all look so similar, but each have their own slightly different flavour depending on their maturity and how they have been stored. Some are more bitter than others but still have an underlying soft, nuttiness that so many of us enjoy.
Walnuts are my favourite nut and I will add them where I can to boost a dish with a little more vitamins and minerals. I also have happy memories of cracking them as a child, watching a pantomime on the TV and feeling a rush of excitement to see them in the nut bowl, ready for Christmas.
I could bring out a lorry full of recipes to use walnuts in so choosing one in particular has been quite difficult. This muffin recipe is easy though, requires no special skills or ingredients and taste great. You could make large ones, like I have and eat for lunch instead of a sandwich or make mini ones and use as a party dish. Use whatever apples or cheese you like (even a blue cheese works well) and pop in the freezer if you don't eat them within 2 days.
Cheese, Walnut and Apple Muffins
Mix 275g self-raising flour, 1 tsp baking powder, ½ tsp salt, 75g cheddar cheese, 1 apple, peeled and diced and 50g chopped walnuts together in a bowl.
In a jug, place 50g melted butter, 250ml milk, 1 egg and a 2tbsp finely chopped chives and beat together. Pour this into the dry ingredients and stir gently until just mixed. Divide between 10 muffin cases in a tin and bake at 200°C/Gas Mark 6. When risen and golden, remove from the oven and cool. Sprinkle over some nutritional yeast if you have any, for an extra boost of flavour and nutrition.
Some easy extra ideas - add 2-3 tbsp of walnuts to a bread mix, sprinkle onto porridge, salads, cheese on toast, soups, stews and muesli.
Walnuts can be enjoyed as part of a balanced, healthy diet and provide a wealth of nutrition. As with anything though, eat in moderation! Make some of your own memories and add them to recipes you already make and consider using them for both sweet and savoury dishes. Failing that, crack some open in front of the fire with a glass of something warming - Christmas will be here soon after all...