Saturday, March 8, 2014

Hobbit Test Kitchen: The Little Things - Spiced Walnuts

First breakfast is going to center around apple cinnamon oatmeal. You make it in a crockpot with steel-cut oats, so it’s the kind of thing I can plug in at night and it will be ready for us when we all wake up. Ahhhh.

To go with it, I thought it’d be nice to have some spices nuts. I used to make some every Christmas and give them away – cinnamon walnuts and ginger almonds. They were great because they lasted forever, so they were a sweet treat that I could give out, and if the recipient didn’t eat them right away they wouldn’t go stale and be wasted like cookies or other baked stuff.

But somewhere in the course of moving computers over the years, the recipe was misplaced. Also, they were cooked up in a microwave, and ours broke and hasn’t been replaced. So I looked for a new recipe on my favorite recipe site.

As usual, I looked at the recipes by rank, and the highest-rated one was something I had all the ingredients and equipment for. It was originally for pecans, but it seemed worth the risk, so I tried it.

But apparently, it’s not as good with walnuts, period. And it’s definitely not as good as my old recipe. They’re not bad, but walnuts have a much stronger taste than pecans, and this recipe has almost all sweet notes, and no buttery or salty, which I miss. But they’re still good enough that I’m going to try it on pecans later and see what I think.

A reasonable person might wonder at this point why I don’t make this with pecans now. It has to do with the attempted aesthetic for this shindig.

When contemplating the foods I was going to serve, I considered a number of factors. The first, and most important, is that Tolkien himself wrote about food that was inspired by the rural, late-19th-century diet that he remembered fondly from his youth in the English countryside. It’s also worth taking into account the medieval feel of the stories as well as the 18th-century feel of the movies’ version of the Shire.

To this end, I’ve tried to cut out American and other non-British crops unless they are specifically mentioned in the books. Potatoes are in (“boil ‘em up, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew”), but the dilly beans I bought really shouldn’t be included, and Tolkien himself ruled out tomatoes during an edit of the Hobbit. (Apparently Gandalf originally asked Bilbo to bring out the “tomatoes and cold chicken,” instead of pickles. There is some debate as to why he made the change, though.)

I’ve already got a fairly thorough knowledge of American crops, but in terms of some other areas – cheeses, nuts, and wines – I’ve had to do some research. Hazelnuts are in, because they’ve been cultivated and prized in the now-BritishIsles since prehistory. I’m going to put them out right in their shells in a salute to this little fact.

Black walnuts are indigenous to the Americas, and so are pecans (a type of hickory nut, apparently), but while regular walnuts aren’t native to Britain, they’ve been eaten there for long enough that they’re now called, “English walnuts.” Good enough for me!

It’s just too bad I didn’t have my old recipe…

Sweet Coated Walnuts

1 egg white
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons water
1 pound walnut halves
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F (120 degrees C). Lightly butter a baking sheet.

In a bowl, beat the egg white until foamy. Mix in cinnamon, sugar, salt, and water. Mix well. Stir in walnuts, stirring until well coated. Spread on baking sheet.
Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

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