Sunday, December 5, 2010

Food Lore: What's In A Walnut?

Walnuts, according to Roman food lore, were the food of the gods. Lowly plebians (humans) ate acorns, beechnuts, chestnuts and other types of lesser nuts.

The Roman word for walnut nux Gallica is linguistically traced to the Proto-Indo European word dyew-g╩Ělandi- "Jove's acorn". Metaphorically, it was a nut fit for a god.

Roman wedding guests were hailed by walnuts, compliments of the groom, to bring good health, to ward off disease, and increase fertility. Young men who thought the walnut enhanced fertility eagerly scrambled for the tossed jewels.

Ironically in Romania, a bride would place one roasted walnut in her bodice for every year she wished to remain childless.

In the Middle Ages, Europeans believed walnuts would ward off fevers, witchcraft, epileptic fits, the evil eye, and even lightning. The Chinese believe crickets to be a creature of good omen, and would often carry musically-trained crickets in walnut shells covered with intricately-carved patterns.

Although it is difficult to trace the native home of the walnut tree, today there are 21 species of walnut. The Romans thought it originated in Persia. Early cultivation spanned from southeastern Europe to Asia Minor to the Himalayas. Greek usage of walnut oil dates back to the fourth century B.C., nearly a century before the Romans.

Franciscan priests brought the walnut to California in the latter part of the 18th century. The oil of the nut has been used for centuries in the preparation of fine paints for artists. And the wood of the tree is a valued source of lumber for floors and furniture.

Here are some fun recipes and uses of walnut:

Maple Walnut Pie

Walnut Liquer
Quick Walnut Bread

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