29 September 2012

Nuts

Nuts can be a difficult category to pin down because there are so many different varieties. In theory, the nut should be the perfect food. It is portable and snackable, and therefore resists strict alignment with any social food practice: one does not need to get dressed up or abide by any culinary custom in order to enjoy a nut. And yet, for the most part, nuts are disgusting. They confuse us with their careful packaging. It is human nature to want to know what lies beyond that hard shell and to get to the meat of the nut’s nature, as it were. When we do crack open the shell, we are almost always disappointed. Although nuts are a varied group--they come in all shapes and sizes--they share one thing in common: none of them taste good and they’re all too expensive for what you get. In fact, the only two nuts worth eating also happen to not be nuts. The cashew, for instance, grows inside of a kidney-shaped fruit attached to another fruit, and is therefore actually a seed and not a nut. Meanwhile, the peanut can be found underground because it is a legume. But I refuse to abide by the laws of botanical science, which try to tell me that a tomato is a fruit and a cashew is a seed. The classification of these foods should depend on their use, and not some science geek who starts all of his sentences with either “Well, actually...” or “Did you know...” For all intents and purposes (and intensive purposes, since the cashew and peanut are excellent sources of energy), both can be considered nuts.

I have chosen to begin and end this post with the cashew and the peanut so that the reader might get his/her hopes up with the cashew, only to have them dashed by the other nuts, and then experience a kind of redemption with the peanut.
The Martyrdom of St. John Nepomuk, who was drowned a sea of nuts for
refusing a walnut offered to him by King Wenceslaus.
Cashews: The cashew is one of the few nuts fit for human consumption, and its deliciousness lies in its impracticality. It is born of a revolting fruit, one which I have had the distinct displeasure of actually tasting. The cashew fruit will suck all moisture from your mouth, and with it, the will to continue living in a world cruel enough to create this fruit in the first place. Some people actually eat this fruit, but presumably only the kind of people who are too poor to buy the cashews (likely the cashew harvesters). The singular cashew grows within a poisonous comma-like addendum to the fruit, which must be roasted outdoors before it can be safely ingested. The intensive labour involved in harvesting the cashew and the danger involved in roasting it is a mark of luxury and good taste.

Pecans: Pecans look like wrinkled and diseased vulvas and should be avoided at all costs. They have no culinary value and are aesthetically displeasing and disruptive to the common good. They also lead to the unfortunate pronunciation of “pe-cawn,” which lends a false sense sophistication to what is in actuality a banal and middle-class nut.

Walnuts: Walnuts are sometimes considered “the poor man’s cashew,” as if just placing a bowl of walnuts in your living room will put you on par with your more affluent neighbours, who can not only afford a dish of cashews for company, but are also sophisticated enough to use the word “dish” instead of the unrefined “bowl.”

Hazelnuts: Hazelnuts are not edible and therefore are beyond the scope of this discussion.

Acorns: Like hazelnuts, acorns are also totally inedible. But unlike hazelnuts, they are adorable and warrant our attention.
Although Saint Francis committed himself to living
in poverty, he could not give up his mountain of nuts
and refused to share them. His selfishness was awarded
with sainthood, in true Catholic fashion.
 Pistachios: These “oysters of the trees” are as offensive and revolting as the actual oysters of the sea. They look like a cyst in the process of bursting, or, more horrific yet, an oyster. An interesting parallel can be drawn between the lazy activity of cracking open a pistachio shell and eating the hardened vomit inside to the plebeian activity of sitting on a porch, whittling a piece of wood. There is also a disconcerting dust-like material coating the shell.

Almonds: There is only one appropriate way to eat an almond, and that is to wait until the Grand Forks Art Gallery is catering a social event which prompts your mother to buy a giant bag of pre-sliced almonds from Costco, roast them in the oven to be used in some unknown and highfalutin dessert, and then store them in a stainless steel dish on top of the dinner plates for you to graze on as you drift through the kitchen, waiting for your actual dinner of starches and cheese to be prepared for you.


Chestnuts: These little brown gems are pure delight, so long as you never try to eat one. Collecting chestnuts and storing them in pockets or displaying them in jars is a perfect passtime for any self-respecting individual, but taking the next step and trying to eat one is not. Chestnuts grow within a spiky burr-like covering, and when they begin to make their way out of this frightening womb, they resemble a violent caterpillar shedding its horrific skin, revealing the beautiful brown bulb of a butterfly within.

Macadamia: The common name, “Queen of Nuts,” is an offense to the institution of monarchy. These cheap Hawaiian souvenirs* give the impression of class, but don’t be fooled: they are as ordinary as they come. Only an uncouth commoner would be taken in by this ruse.
Saint Lucy, who refused to marry a pagan, offered
him a plate of macadamia nuts instead. He
accepted the deal. She is often portrayed holding a
tray of nuts and is the patron saint of hostesses.
Peanuts: And now the time has come to end this otherwise rather dour post on a positive and hopeful note. Do not despair! Not all nuts deserve our disdain! The peanut, along with its more urbane cousin, the cashew, is capable of saving the nut classification from utter disgrace and embarrassment. Although peanuts do not have the same luxurious touch as the cashew, they are nevertheless more adaptable to our changing times. Everything has peanuts! Which is why peanut allergies are so rampant: we must purge the human race of those of us who cannot be accommodated within this new era. If I had a quarter for every time a peanut saved my life whilst stranded in the wilds of the revolting Eastern European culinary landscape, I would have enough quarters to live off of peanuts for the rest of my life. All hail the mighty peanut, king among nuts.


* I seem to recall a time in elementary school when everyone was going on vacation to Hawaii and invariably bringing back macadamia nuts as a tasty treat for the class. I, of course, never degraded myself by ingesting a single one. Nor have I since. Incidentally, they are actually Australian, which only adds to the many number of reasons to dismiss them as a food worth eating. Nothing good has ever come out of Australia. 

Recent scholarship has found that it was more likely
a pecan, and not an apple, that led to man's fall from grace.

When choosing nuts, be selective
Some are good, but most destructive.
Limit yourself to the peanut and cashew,
All others, for God's sake, eschew, eschew! 

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