The Good Oil on Southern Walnuts

 As I step off the plane and take in that first deep breath of chilled, clear, Southern air, I rejoice to be back in Dunedin.  Just down the road, beyond the airport, an enterprising pair have set up a roadside stall selling walnuts. Walnuts, like people from the South, are hardy and thrive in a cooler climate.

Walnuts are close to my heart because they connect me to the South and are a reminder of when my Mum lived in Central Otago with a massive walnut tree on her property.   

Looking rather strange and wrinkly, walnuts are the second most popular nut in the world.  Nuts in general are good for us, but walnuts excel in the health stakes.  They are great for your brain (they look a bit like a human brain).  They help ensure a good night’s sleep and keep your heart healthy.  

Back home in Auckland with my roadside walnuts and a bag of sweet pears from my sister’s orchard, my first thought is to make one of my favourite salads.   

Pear and Walnut Salad

First, roast shelled walnuts  (as many as you like but at least 1/2 a cup) in the oven with a little oil and 1/2 to 1 tsp of ground cumin.  This should take as little as 8 minutes in a moderate oven.

Keep a watchful eye on the walnuts as they easily burn.  Roasting improves their flavour and adds crunchiness to the salad.  

While the nuts are roasting, slice up the pears.  It depends on the pear whether or not you decide to keep the skin on.  Not peeling is the healthiest option.  

This is just one large pear I sliced and if you have a pear that is perhaps a little hard and not soft and juicy like this one, then a good trick is to also roast the pear slices.  Cooking them softens and makes them sweeter.

To avoid the pear browning with exposure to air, I slice them into a bowl and squeeze half a lemon over the fruit.  If roasting your pears, also add a little oil.

The third important ingredient is cheese.  I use blue cheese but I had half a block of feta that needed using and I discovered the sharpness of the feta goes particularly well with the sweet pear and the earthy walnuts.

The pears, walnut and cheese are laid out on a bed of green salad.  I am lucky enough to still have lettuce and some rocket growing but this salad would also work with a base of young spinach.   

Final touch is a drizzle of my favourite oil which is usually avocado oil infused with lime, but any good oil would do.  Walnut oil would be the ideal.   

Since discovering the power of walnuts, I decided to buy a small bottle of walnut oil. The only walnut oil I could readily find came from France.  In Canterbury where walnuts grow very well a company called A Cracker of a Nut has set up a factory making walnut products including walnut oil from nuts they purchase close to home and from all over New Zealand. I will let Professor Geoffrey Savage from Lincoln University convince you on the Health Benefits of Walnuts

The colour of butter – Walnut oil from A Cracker of a Nut

I am keen to track down a local source of The Golden Oil so named because of its wonderful colour. It’s an expensive oil so I would only ever use it for salads, as a dipping oil or to brush over food as a finishing oil.

In our house we have also begun to use the oil for its other external uses.  Walnut oil helps relieve psoriasis, gets rid of wrinkles, massaged into the scalp will relieve flaky scalp and can get rid of fungal infections like athlete’s foot.

The walnut tree in Clyde; Mum on the bike shows the scale.

At my mother’s property in Clyde, Central Otago,  there was a massive walnut tree. It was a constant job collecting and drying walnuts when they turned brown in March or April and dropped from the tree.  For those of you lucky enough to have walnuts growing in your garden there is some good advice on Harvesting Walnuts.

So when the Stonehouse company approached her in the early 80’s to purchase half of the tree’s production while they were still green to produce pickled walnuts, she jumped at the opportunity.  I am sure that tree is still being harvested by Stonehouse pickled walnuts today.

I haven’t tried the Stonehouse walnuts that can be found in most deli food stores around New Zealand because I have been gifted pickled walnuts from two adventurous preserving friends at different times. I still had a large Agee jar of pickled walnuts in our Dunedin pantry when we made the shift north.

The process of preserving walnuts is long and complicated,  so I just couldn’t leave Ken’s jar of walnuts behind. The pickled walnuts migrated north with us.  I opened the jar the other day to try what the English (who first began pickling walnuts) state as a winning combination – Stilton  cheese and pickled walnuts.   

And they are right.  You need the sharp cheese to counter the pickle – together they are a delicious mouthful.  You don’t necessarily need to use Stilton – any strong flavoured blue cheese would do.
Having run out of capers, I suggested to Peter to replace capers for pickled walnuts for his oven baked lamb chops with garlic, thyme and rosemary.   The pickled walnuts worked really well with the flavour of meat so that forgotten jar of pickled walnuts is now having its time out in the sun in our kitchen

It’s not just in savory that walnuts enhance.   I used some of my freshly cracked walnuts for an Oat Pancake breakfast.  First I roasted the nuts in a small skillet on the stove top, and while still hot added a tablespoon of honey.  The honey sizzled and coated the walnuts in a devine sweetness.

The oat pancake recipe you can find on my posting “The Secret to Light and Fluffy Oat Pancakes” October 2013.  I complemented the pancakes with Augustines of Central preserved Vulcan apricots, bacon, yoghurt and the honeyed walnuts.

A perfect start to a lazy Sunday.

It does take time to crack your own walnuts but walnuts keep for longer in their shells.  Once shelled I always keep the jar in the fridge to prolong their lives.  A rancid nut is not good for you and tastes terrible.

My Mum would spend winter nights in front of the fire and television cracking walnuts with this well worn nut cracker.  She wrapped the handles in soft material and covered with parcel tape to make the cracking easier on her hands.  It’s 

now one of my most treasured kitchen gadgets. Every time I use it I think of her ‘good life’ years in Clyde when she tirelessly harvested and cracked walnuts to gift to family and friends. She was not only giving us something delicious but a gift of natural medicine. 

The Secret to Light and Fluffy Oat Pancakes

In our house oat pancakes are a breakfast favourite.   Now, oat pancakes are not usually associated with “light and fluffy” but I have discovered just the right proportion of oats to flour to avoid heaviness. The secret to light pancakes is aerating the mix and I thank one of my favourite cooks Lois Daish for the tip.

You don’t need oats at all but I like the added health properties of soaked oats and the nutty flavour.

One of the benefits of eating a breakfast that contains oats is that the oat-beta glucan in oat fibre slows down the increase in blood sugar levels after the meal.  When the oat-beta glucan is digested it forms a gel which makes the contents of your stomach and the small intestine more viscous (a thick consistency between solid and liquid).  This slows the uptake of carbohydrates into the blood stream and digestion takes longer, preventing sudden fluctuations in blood sugar. That’s why you feel satisfied for longer after eating oats for breakfast. (See my previous two postings on the other health benefits from oats).

Oat pancakes has to be pre-planned as you need to soak half a cup of oats overnight in water.

Oat Pancakes (serves 4)

1/2 cup of soaked rolled oats 
*1/2 cup of Spelt or wholemeal flour
1 cup of plain white flour
2 eggs 
1 Tbsp of oil like Avocado (my favourite) or Grapeseed or if you prefer.. melted butter 
1 Tbsp caster sugar
2 tsp of Baking Powder
1- 11/2 cup of milk (or a mix of yogurt and milk) or **Buttermilk (approx)

You need a couple of bowls to make these pancakes but lightness achieved is
worth the dishes. 

*You can  make pancakes just using white flour, but I just like to add different flours to add more nutritional ‘punch’ to breakfast.  I did try Buckwheat flour but found even 1/4 cup made the mix a dry unappetising consistency.
** I always look out for specials on buttermilk as it makes excellent pancakes, scones etc (and can be kept in the fridge for longer than it says on the packet). Tip: By using a mix of yoghurt and milk you get a similar taste to buttermilk.
The big secret to these pancakes is the separation of egg yokes from whites and then beating the egg whites until stiff.   Beaten egg whites add lightness to the mix.

I use this method of adding beaten egg whites to any fritter recipe and it
works a treat – try it next time you make corn fritters.

Start by adding to the soaked oats, the two egg yokes, then the flours, sugar and baking powder.  Add enough milk to mix to a pouring consistency batter – a little like lightly beaten cream.  You may need more or less milk… judge by sight.   If you have added too much milk all is not lost, just add some extra flour.   You don’t have to worry about over working the mix…until you add the fat (either your chosen oil or melted butter).  Add this next and fold in.   

Finally, add the beaten egg white.  First, take a spoon full of the beaten egg white and fold through the mix.   I usually use the egg white I knock off the egg beater against my hand (not on the bowl) into the mix.  (I add egg whites to any mix – it prepares the mix for the rest of the egg white as a little lightens the mix to allow the remaining egg white to more effectively blend with the mix).

The resulting mix should have a lot of air – make sure you
fold in the egg white with a metal spoon until just mixed to
keep the air.
You can add slices of banana, frozen blue berries, or my favourite, frozen blackcurrants to the mix…
 or just pop a few currants on top of the pancakes.

I learnt about adding currants to the top of the uncooked mix
from my friend Maerushia and decided I would surprise Beau with a smiley
face pancake.

If using caste iron you need to heat it for a while before using so I usually turn the heat on slowly while preparing the pancakes.

Rub the warmed pan with butter paper or give it a light spray with cooking oil.  Always make a small sacrificial pancake first, to see if you have the pan at the right temperature.  You need enough heat to cook them through but not too high that they cook on the outside but remain uncooked on the inside.

Flip the pancakes when bubbles appear and start to burst on the surface of the pancake. If they don’t have a firm under-surface when you try to flip them, it means you are flipping too early.

Once cooked, keep them warm in a low oven until ready to eat.

I usually serve pancakes with fruit compote or a bowl of fresh summer fruits, maple syrup and yoghurt.
One of my favourite compotes is pureed cooked gooseberries.

Of course true maple syrup is the best with pancakes, but
if you want to try something produced closer to home,
Pear Syrup produced in Hawkes Bay is a good  replacement.
It’s made from 100% pears, no extra sugar added.

The best pancakes are made from using a heavy caste iron pan because the heat is constant making an even crust.  Our landlord and friend Chris has a wonderful selection of cooking pots and I keep one of his large caste iron pans just for pancakes so that I don’t get other flavours transferred to the pancake.
In Dunedin I would use my griddle iron… and you griddle fans, you will find it in my September  2012 posting   “A Vintage Morning Tea – Nan’s Pikelets”.  If you are ‘griddleless’ try hunting one down  in a second hand shop…  then you will discover perfect pancake production.
Beau loved his smiley face pancake made from currants. He likes his
pancake cut into wedges then a squeeze of syrup.

Every culture has some form of pancake cooked on a stove top.  My work colleague Elizabeth told me about savoury breakfast pancakes they cook in India.  These are made from fermented rice, lentils and oats, and are called Dosa’s. Elizabeth says that adding oats gives the dosa more crunch.  I now have the method so I am keen to give them a try.  Will keep you posted.