February 16, 2015
un écrou pour toutes les saisons
(a nut for all seasons)
It was like the drugstores common to movies from the thirties and forties. Besides serving as a pharmacy, Bryan Drug House had a lunch counter, a supply of greeting cards, and various candies, ranging from Whitman Samplers to Hershey bars, for sale. It was located in the center of town, directly across West Main Street from the old Nathanial Rochester Hotel. I roomed there with four other guys on the second floor from September 1967 until June the following year. It was at Bryan’s that I learned that regular coffee came with milk and sugar—only out‑of‑towners like me drank their coffee black—and you had to talk to the druggist if you wanted to buy a rubber—no one referred to them as condoms.
If you happened to sit at the counter during their busy periods, for a meal or something to drink, you’d have to put up with people standing directly behind you shouting in their coffee and pastry orders. This would be followed shortly by them retrieving their order by reaching over your shoulder. I quickly learned that neither the food nor the coffee was worth the hassle. I mainly visited this place to buy cigarettes and pipe tobacco.
The one product they sold that always intrigued me, but was more expensive than my funds would allow me to pay, was the hot nuts. Purportedly fresh‑roasted nuts were dispensed from a brightly lit, glass display. A customer could purchase either a paper bag filled with one of six or so nut types or simply a bag of mixed nuts. Each was coated in a film of oil and sold hot. The sign painted on the display said “fresh roasted,” but I always wondered how fresh the nuts themselves were.
During this same period, I could purchase raw nuts, still in their shells, or I could go to a supermarket and buy vacuum‑packed mixed nuts or peanuts in cans or special foil packets. If I was really flush, I could buy little cans of hickory‑smoked almonds. While drugstore displays with hot nuts had been around for a few decades, hickory‑smoked almonds had been around for less than ten years at that time. The almonds were a symbol of modernity for the party giver opening a can of nuts for her guests.
The smoked almonds—the word smoked should probably be in quotes—were made by adding “smoke” flavoring to roasted almonds. Today, the can label on Blue‑Diamond‑brand Smokehouse Almonds lists its ingredients as almonds, vegetable oil, salt, maltodextrin, natural hickory smoke flavor, yeast, hydrolyzed corn and soy protein, and natural flavors. (Today we know that yeast and hydrolyzed protein are sources of umami.)
A Google search of “seasoned nut recipes” produces almost five million results. That’s a lot of recipes to sort through. In the end, the recipes tend to fall into distinct categories. First, there’s the recipes that start with raw nuts versus those that start with roasted nuts. Second, there are recipes where the flavorings are held onto the nut surface with a “glue,” and then there are those recipes where the flavorings—the term seasoning is not really correct in this application—are held by the film of oil left from earlier in the production process. Lastly, for those recipes that do use a “glue,” the two general types are either sugar or egg white.
Given these conditions, it’s possible to develop your own unique recipe for flavored nuts. Here’s mine. Try it with different nuts. Try it with different flavorings. The sugar is the glue. The salt and pepper are the flavor enhancers. More important, there are a lot of flavorings that could be used instead of the smoked paprika.
30 ml (2 T)
25 g (2 T)
cayenne pepper powder
225 g (1⁄2 lb)
1. Preheat your oven to 165°C (330°F). Lightly coat a quarter‑size, rimmed sheet pan with oil. Line a half‑size, rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper.
2. Combine the water, sugar, cayenne pepper, and salt in a saucepan over high heat. When the sugar is dissolved, and the mixture is boiling, add the nuts. Stir frequently until the liquid is quite syrupy.
3. Spread the nuts in a single layer on the smaller sheet pan. Bake until the nuts start to brown, about 20 minutes.
4. Transfer the nuts to a bowl, and add the smoked paprika. Stir with a spatula until the nuts are evenly coated. Spread the nuts in an even layer on the larger sheet pan to cool.
5. Store in a sealed jar at room temperature.
Yield: 8 portions. Maybe.