Awwwww, NUTS.

One day, when I was maybe three or so, my father took me with him on a mission. He dropped the car, which I think was a sage-y green, tank-like creature with fins, off at a dealership (Fancher’s Buick, I believe it was called) to get some kind of repair work done. Then he grabbed my hand and we walked a block or two to Hunter’s Snack Bar & Soda Shop.

I had never been to Hunter’s, although my older brothers sometimes told tales of giant ice cream cones, so big they could take an HOUR to eat. These were rewards they got after winning Little League games. Too bad, they’d say to me, YOU can’t go and get one of THOSE.

And I would feel a sad yearning to be big, and to eat big ice cream cones, even though I knew that girls could never play Little League.

Ah, but that day. THAT day, my father was taking ME. We stepped up the one cement step, and my father pushed the big door open, and in we went.

The door closed behind us and I stood there in some kind of bliss. I closed my eyes, and I breathed in through my nose.

The smell of that place! The smell!

Hunter’s had a roasted nut counter. I had never smelled such a smell before: it was hot and rich, oily, roasty, and dense. The glass case was filled with peanuts and cashews and almonds and pecans, with Brazil nuts and macadamias. They tumbled up against each other, salty and deliciously scented.

The scent reached for me; it twined around my legs and it edged under my PF Flyer knockoffs. It insinuated itself around my waist, it drifted up my nose, and it pulled me off the floor. I shut my eyes and floated.

I had never, in all my going-on-four years, smelled anything quite so wonderful.

I felt my father wrap his big calloused hand around my chubby ankle. He held me there, floating halfway between floor and ceiling, while Mr. Hunter, in his paper hat and white apron, poured Dad scorched black coffee in a thick white cup. Dad added cream from a little silver pitcher with a lid; he scooped sugar from a cut glass bowl and stirred it round and round.

Then there was a thunking sound. Mr. Hunter was opening the ice cream bin.

I opened one eye to watch. Mr. Hunter got a little metal dish, one that was shaped kind of like a flower, from a shelf, and he sculpted a softball of ice cream into it. Then he walked to a big metal box at the back of the counter, and he lifted the lid. Steam rose. The aroma of chocolate tweaked the nutty smell, and Mr. Hunter took a long metal scoop and he dipped it into that box, and he dug out thick, hot fudge sauce, and he poured it—a HUGE ladle-full—onto that ice cream ball. Then he went behind the nut counter and came back with a scoopful of roasted mixed nuts, and he sprinkled those on the hot fudge.

He put that beautiful dish in front of the empty stool next to my father, and he laid down a thick white napkin, and a long, thin spoon. He put ice cubes and water in a real glass glass, and he lined it up right behind the napkin.

Mr. Hunter nodded at my father, who smiled and pulled firmly on my ankle. I slid down onto that little spinning stool—slithery, magically, vinyl—and I looked at my Dad, who nodded at me.

I picked up the spoon and I plunged it into the bowl and spooned out warm fudge and melting ice cream and salty nuts. And I took my first bite of a hot fudge sundae, my first taste of freshly roasted nuts.

Oh.

I ate the whole dense concoction; I wouldn’t have to worry about floating away again. I was tethered to the earth with strong strands of hot fudge sauce.

After I scraped the last bit of goodness out of the frosty little bowl, Dad put money on the counter and said goodbye to Mr. Hunter, who was smiling at me, pleased I’d liked my treat. We went and picked up the car.

And ever since that day, the smell of freshly roasted nuts has transported me.

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I am pretty sure that everything happened just exactly as I’ve reported here.

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One day last week, I came home from work and made granola. I poured the oatmeal into the bowl and I got coconut from the freezer and stirred some in, and I reached into the cupboard for the almonds and pecans. There were just enough nuts in each bag—just enough supermarket nuts—to make one last batch.

And I suddenly thought: wouldn’t it be nice to have fresh roasted nuts? Imagine what granola would taste like with nuts from, say, a place like Hunter’s.

I got online and researched. There are nutteries in Columbus, not so far away. The first nuttery page I landed on hooked me; I swear I could almost smell those nuts through the monitor. I ordered fresh-roasted almonds, and I ordered fresh-roasted pecans.

And then, because they were having a sale, I ordered a couple of bags of cashews (buy one, get one), too.

That was a Thursday night. I pushed OK on my PayPal tab, and the order wormed quickly through cyberspace.

I wondered if there was any way they’d arrive by Saturday.

***************************************

The did not arrive on Saturday, but on Monday, when I came home from work, there was a big square box on the dining room table, and inside, I found my beautiful bags of nuts. Tomorrow, I’ll finish off last week’s batch of granola. Then, in the afternoon, I’ll make more, and this time, I’ll mix fresh roasted pecans and fresh roasted almonds in with the oats and the coconut flake and the cinnamon, and I’ll stir warm honey and coconut oil and vanilla into the mix.

And I’ll roast it all, low and slow, until the oats are golden brown all through when I stir them. Then I will take the granola out of the oven and let it cool. I’ll store it in the old plastic ice cream tub, and every morning, I’ll have granola with fresh roasted nuts.

It’s enough to make me want to crawl out of bed before light dawns, to lace up my deep toe-boxed sneakers and walk for two and a half miles, knowing, when I come home, that fresh-roasted decaf and roasted-nut-studded granola are waiting for me.

And the cashews! I might use some of THOSE in a chicken stir fry. But mostly I will pour them into a tiny cup and savor them during my late afternoon reading hour, letting the salt light up my taste buds, chewing them slowly, and making myself read and digest a whole page before I’m allowed to pop another cashew into my mouth.

They’re STILL magical. Why did I let myself live so long without fresh roasted nuts?

**************************************

Mark takes Jim, one day last week, to see a nutritionist for help with some digestive issues. Jim comes home bleakly resigned to needed changes.

The nutritionist, he says, suggested he eat nuts for a snack.

Yes! I think. Nuts are GOOD for us.

I show Jim the packages I got in the mail.

“She said no cashews,” he says glumly.

No cashews?

Are cashews bad?

I go looking online for nut wisdom, to find out whether nuts equal good nutrition.

***********************************

And guess what?

Yes, they do.

Nuts have fat and fiber and protein. The fat is mostly monounsaturated (good); it has omega 6’s and omega 3’s in it, which we want. Nuts have vitamins, especially E, and minerals, including magnesium.

This quote from healthline.com warmed my cockles: “…many studies have shown that people who eat nuts live longer than those who don’t.”  

And nuts, those wonderful treats, may reduce our risk for high blood pressure and for high BAD cholesterol; they may improve our blood sugars, and they may even, this learned site informs me, reduce the risk of some cancers.

And they don’t affect a person’s weight: eating nuts won’t be the thing that makes me shed pounds…but eating nuts won’t pack them on, either.

************************************

So which nuts are good nuts? The site has a top ten list, and YAY! Almonds are number one!

And DOUBLE YAY! Cashews are number four! (What was that nutritionist talkin’ about???) Studies, the experts tell me, show that a diet high in cashews can reduce blood pressure and increase ‘good’ cholesterol; eating cashews adds antioxidants to the diet too.

And PECANS make the top ten, as well, with the same healthy properties.

I open the cupboard and gaze at the packages of fresh roasted dietary friends.

“Nuts,” says my new favorite website, “are one of the healthiest snacks you can eat, as they contain a whole range of essential ingredients” (“The Health Benefits of Eating Nuts”).

**************************************

And then I get to wondering where they came from, these savory, life-enhancing treats, so I go looking for that kind of information.

I find that almonds have been celebrated since biblical times, and probably even before. Moses’s brother, Aaron, had a wondrous staff; that staff blossomed and bore almonds.

Ancient Romans gave newlyweds gifts of almonds; the nuts were believed to boost fertility.

Servants in ancient Egypt served almonds to the pharaohs.

Later, European explorers ventured to Asia, and, on the Silk Road, they discovered almonds. They discovered them, and they loved them, and they brought them back to Europe.

Almonds grew especially well in Italy and Spain, and later, hundreds of years later, Franciscan priests planted almonds in California. They found that almonds did better inland, and by 1870 or so, they had bred the type of almond we enjoy today.

By 1900, the almond industry was a pretty big deal in the USA; it’s still a big deal today.

(https://www.waterfordnut.com/history.html)

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Cashews, on the other hand, hail from Brazil. The name comes from a Tupi-Indian word: Acaju. Instead of growing like a conventional nut, cashews grow out of the base of what are called cashew apples. They’re always sold unshelled, because the shells contain a resin that irritates skin.

European explorers were introduced to cashews circa 1558 in Brazil, where Capuchin monkeys used rough tools to break the irritating shells and eat the cashews (smart little creatures). The Tupi-Indians showed their guests how to roast cashews; their guests liked that very much.

Portuguese traders took cashews to Goa in 1560; they were believed to contain healing properties and they were prized. Cashews were transplanted to India, where a great many people discovered they liked those nuts very, very much. The cultivation of cashews spread to southeast Asia and to Africa.

In the mid-1920’s, the General Food Corporation shipped cashews to the U.S. and to Europe. By 1941, according towholenutsnaddriefruit.com, India was exporting 20,000 tons of cashews per year.

I don’t think that has slowed down one bit.

(https://wholesalenutsanddriedfruit.com/history-of-the-cashew/)

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Pecans…now, THOSE are the United States’ hometown nut-kid. Pecans are “…the only major tree nut that grows naturally in North America,” atasteofthesouth.com tells me. Pecans grew naturally in central and eastern North America; they were used as a winter food by native Americans. Those folks may have made a fermented drink (“Powcohicora”—the root of the word, ‘hickory’) from pecans.

Farmers planted pecan trees in southern United States and along the Gulf Coast. The nut became an important trade product, especially so in New Orleans. Commercial propagation began in the 1880’s, and production doesn’t seem to have slowed down.

Just think: turtle sundaes.

Just think: pecan pie.

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The roasted nuts in my cupboard not only have a rich and wonderful taste, but a rich and wonderful history, too.

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Over dinner one night, Mark says to me, truly interested, “Why didn’t you go to Tom’s to get nuts?”

I put down my fork and look at him. Then I take the heel of my right hand and smack it into my forehead.

We have a nut-roastery type place right here in town: Tom’s Ice Cream Bowl. It’s a famous place, and a historic one: established in 1948, the restaurant still makes their own delicious ice cream. (Mitt Romney enjoyed ice cream there on the campaign trail; that may be ONE sweet memory for him.) Tom’s sells Heggy chocolates, too, and  pubby-food type dishes…burgers, sloppy joes, fresh cut fries.

And they have freshly roasted nuts.

So this afternoon I take Jim down to Tom’s to see about getting him some fresh roasted peanuts, which his nutritionist says are okay.

(Peanuts, I note to Jim, after my dive into nutty research, are actually legumes.

Jim shrugs.

“Okay,” he says.)

And there’s that smell again, wafting through happy people, seated at least six feet apart, digging into tulip-dished sundaes, laughing, enjoying a rare day out. A young man, his long hair neatly pony-tailed, dapper in a black vest and bow tie, deftly scoops up peanuts and pours them into a paper bag. His scoop, no fooling, is one blanched peanut from perfect.

The young man adds the missing peanut, acknowledges that he might have scooped a pound of peanuts a time or two before, and rings us out with a smile.

***************************************

Jim is thinking he might mix peanuts with dark chocolate morsels, make himself a kind of trail mix snack for when he needs a sweet and savory treat.

I’m thinking of that smell: Tom’s takes me right back to Hunter’s. (No danger, these days, of me floating off the ground, however.) And how good to know there’s a place, just five minutes away, where I can go; I can buy my fresh roasted nuts bagged up in environmentally friendly paper sacks. I can bring them home and open the bag and savor that wonderful scent.

 I can mix those nuts up into my morning granola; I can take a little cupful for a snack at work or during reading hour.

These are difficult, challenging days; they are days of uncertainty and days when we need to fight hard not to fall victim to lassitude or despair.

Food can’t solve the problems we face; of course it can’t.

But.

************************************************

Ah, friends. My feet, these days, sport leaden brakes instead of gossamer wings. I am earthbound, well and truly.

And, yet,–somewhere, in deepest chambers of the bony mind cavern, a memory angel, a flying three-year-old, stirs and smiles.

I smile too.

And all because of roasted nuts.

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References–

“The Health Benefits of Eating Nuts”

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/9-healthy-nuts#section1

“The History of Almonds”

https://www.waterfordnut.com/history.html

“History of the Cashew”

History Of The Cashew

“The History of the Pecan”

https://atasteofthesouth.com/pecan-history/

15 thoughts on “Awwwww, NUTS.

      1. It has been. We live 25 km from a city and so when we need to we can go get supplies. Otherwise we are just at home except that my work has started again. But we are fortunate that our province we have 134 active cases but only 1 in our zone. Our province has had 22 deaths. Being fairly rural has its advantages.

      2. It does. We live in a small city in a very rural area. We have been lucky enough to only have one death (one too many) in our county, but cases are on the rise. There are advantages to home life right now!

  1. Kim Allen

    I can smell the shop!!! I just may have to pull out my granola recipe! You are a good artist! How wonderful and special to have that memory of you and your dad, that you have brought into the present to live in a different way.

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