Food - Nuts
( Originally Published 1917 )
Nuts as a food. There is hardly an American boy or girl living in the country today, or a man or woman whose childhood was spent there who does not think of "going nutting" as one of the pleasantest of all country pastimes. But of the many people who treasure memories of the fun they have had gathering nuts few ever think of nuts as a "real food," as having any real part to play in the food supply of this nation. The people of the United States and especially our country people have come to think of nuts almost wholly as a dainty, something to be eaten for their delicious taste and not as substantial food.
Piecing out the pioneer larder. The early settlers in the wooded sections of the United States were often forced to eat nuts, not as a delicacy to be nibbled daintily, but as a means of supporting life until they could raise a supply of grains, vegetables, and fruits. In nearly every part of the timber country, nut trees grew wild and nuts could be had abundantly merely for the gathering. Many pioneers would have had much less to eat and some of them would have perished without the wild nuts only waiting to be harvested. For this reason the early settlers knew, better than the people of today, how useful nuts are and how they may be made to help out in the family living. Undoubtedly these settlers would have made greater use of this food, had they understood what the experts in nutrition have long since found out. That is, that nuts are about the richest food nature has prepared for our use. Nuts, as a rule, contain more protein, fats, and heat-making material, pound for pound, than meat, eggs, wheat, or even cheese.
As an everyday food, not a luxury. This is only another way of saying that nuts are among the most nutritious of our neglected foods. As their great food value becomes better appreciated and the pleasing ways in which they may be combined with other foods become more generally understood, nuts will become a most important article of our trade. That the use of nuts as a food is steadily on the increase in the United States may be seen by their increased sales. Nuts are a wholesome food and in time will no doubt rank as a food necessity and not as a luxury. This means that great quantities of wild nuts which have been allowed to fall and remain unharvested will be gathered, sold, and eaten. This yearly waste is now so large that if we were able to express it in definite figures we would all be astonished. Just because the United States is not as thickly populated as the Old World countries and because it is remarkably fruitful is no excuse for our wasting or neglecting so valuable an article of food—a food, too, that nature furnishes as lavishly as she does nuts.
The wide distribution of nuts. The fact that many nuts, with ordinary care, will keep in good condition for many months is decidedly fortunate. Still another advantage they possess is the generous way in which they are distributed over the whole country. It is an uncommonly barren and almost treeless region that does not offer us some kind of nut that is rich, meaty, and wholesome. If you look from the window of a transcontinental train upon a stretch of stunted pinon trees in the Southwest, you feel sure that nothing in sight could possibly yield food. Yet these low, scrubby pinon trees produce great quantities of finely flavored nuts. Pinon nuts are highly prized by those who are familiar with them and are aware of their flourishing qualities.
While some nuts are not found outside a limited territory, there are others which are found almost everywhere. For instance, the black walnut is scattered from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast and from the Canadian border far into the South. The hickory nut and the chestnut also extend over a wide range. On the other hand, the hazelnut and the pinon nut are not nearly so widely distributed. You will find it interesting to see how large a list you can make of nuts to be found in your own locality. Perhaps the extent of that list will surprise you.
Cultivation : improves quality,increases use. The broader, appreciation of the food value of nuts and an increased use mean that their production will not be left entirely to the chances of natural seeding and wild growth, but will depend more upon planting and careful cultivation. This has been the history of almost every fruit and vegetable that has gained popularity enough to become a leading article of trade. Usually cultivation has greatly improved the quality of a fruit, increased the quantity and the certainty of its yield, and sometimes brought it into earlier bearing. Then, too, the experts who make a careful study of a fruit are usually able to change it so as to remove faults that would interfere with its commercial success, developing in their place more pleasing and desirable qualities. The "paper-shelled" walnuts, pecans, and almonds are fine examples of what they have done in the way of improving nuts. Here the skill of scientific growers has reduced the thickness of the shell so that the nuts may be easily cracked. They saw that a thin, brittle shell which could be easily cracked at the table would add immensely to the popularity and sale of these nuts. At the same time they realized that great care must be taken to secure this advantage without sacrificing the sweetness and the characteristic flavor of the nuts. Possibly there has been a slight loss in flavor, but the shells have been so altered in thickness that they well deserve the name "paper." It is equally true that this alteration has secured English walnuts, pecans, and almonds an undisputed place at the social table, thereby greatly extending their use and 'increasing their market value.
There are few kinds of specialized farming more interesting and profitable than nut culture. This industry has been best developed in the South and the Far West. Here are found vast fields of peanuts and orchards of pecans and groves of almonds and English walnuts. The region of western New York, near Lake Ontario, also has highly developed English walnut orchards. The nuts from these orchards are of a particularly sweet and hardy variety which thrives in localities where the winters are even more severe than in western New York. Thus we see how the increased demand for these fancy nuts has brought about an astonishing increase in the area of their production.
Our nut supply and its sources. Because of the immense supply of wild nuts gathered and eaten without ever being marketed, it is impossible to form any idea of the quantity of nuts consumed by the American people. With cultivated nuts it is possible to be more definite. In a single year we exported to other countries about 8,000,000 pounds of peanuts and about $400,000 worth of other nuts.
In spite of the millions of pounds of nuts grown in this country, we bought from other countries about 190,000,000 pounds of nuts in a single year. We imported about 18,000,000 pounds of almonds, 50,000,000 pounds of coconut meat, 20,000,000 pounds of Brazil nuts, 12,000,000 pounds of filberts, 44,000,000 pounds of peanuts, and 37,000,000 pounds of walnuts in twelve months time. We also bought more than $1,000,000 worth of other nuts.
There are, perhaps, no countries in the world, except those lying within the polar regions, that do not send us some kind of nuts. The geographic range of our nut supply extends practically over the entire world. We buy nuts from Europe, from Asia, from Africa, from Central America, South America, North America, from the East Indies, the West Indies, from the islands of the Far South, and from the islands that dot the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Perhaps a glance at the various nuts and their native homes will teach us something of the geography of this wonderful food.
Nuts of many kinds. Our most common native nuts are: the acorn, hickory nut, chestnut, black walnut, and butternut. We also grow great quantities of peanuts, almonds, pecans, and English walnuts.
Let us study the geography of our imported nuts. The pistachio, a small bean-shaped nut of green color and peculiar flavor that you have undoubtedly eaten in ice cream or candy, is a native of Western Asia. We still import our chief supply of it from that region. This nut commands an unusually high price, and as it can be grown in the United States it is not to be wondered that enterprising Americans have begun to cultivate it. There are now pistachio groves in California.
The English walnut is native to England, Austria, and Germany. We import walnuts from France, England, Germany, Italy, Chile, Turkey, and Australia.
The litchi nut is really not a nut at all, but a dried fruit with a flavor something like that of the raisin. The litchi is a great favorite in China and we import many thousand pounds for the use of the Chinese here. Another Chinese dainty is the ginkgo nut, which grows in that country on what we call the maidenhair tree. It is eaten here only by Orientals.
The pignolia, or pine nuts, which grow on many varieties of pines, both here and abroad, were the chief food of some tribes of American Indians before our forefathers settled in this country. They have also been used as food in Italy and in some Asiatic countries for a great many years. In our own Western States they are known as "pinons." We import these nuts chiefly from France and Italy.
The water chestnut the seed of a water plant is used extensively in Asia. In this country it is eaten almost entirely by the Chinese who live here and for whom we import it from China.
We are now buying in small quantities from South America what is known as the paradise nut. It resembles a Brazil nut in shape but by many it is considered a little finer in flavor.
There is an interesting story told about this nut, which grows in a large round pod with a small cap at one end. As the story goes, the gas which forms in the pod after it has fallen to the ground forces the cap out with a loud report. This report attracts the monkeys, who then search for the nuts in the thick undergrowth, where they have been blown by the force of the explosion. This is given as the chief reason for the small supply of paradise nuts brought to our markets.
Another tropical nut is the cashew, which you perhaps have tasted. There is a candy made of cashew nuts that can be bought in some of the finest delicatessens and candy shops in our country. Like the candle nut, which also grows in the tropics, the cashew nut should be roasted before being eaten, as it contains poisonous elements which are destroyed by the heat. This nut, however, can be eaten raw or pickled when properly shelled and prepared by one familiar with its peculiarities. But should you or I attempt to eat one, as we would a walnut or pecan, we would very likely suffer for our rashness.
Like the peanut, the tabebuia nut from Zanzibar is roasted. The tabebuia is the seed of a fruit which looks much like a pumpkin, and so perhaps we should not class it as a nut, but as a seed.
The Brazil nut, of which we import 20,000,000 pounds a year, is a native of Brazil and Guiana and is of special interest because of the way it grows. Large hard, round shells, some of them twice as big as an ordinary coconut, encase two dozen or more of the popular Brazil nuts or cream or Para nuts, as they are often called. These great round nut cases grow on very large trees. Because of their weight and their hard shell it is dangerous for any one to venture among the trees when the nuts are ripe enough to fall.
"Earth nuts": the peanut and chufa. There is scarcely a boy or girl in America who is not familiar with the peanut. Strictly speaking, the peanut is not a nut but a pod seed a true legume and first cousin. to the pea and bean. It is a native of Brazil, but is now cultivated in all warm countries. The United States produces about 300,000,000 pounds a year, and Africa, Spain, China, Japan, Italy, Java, and France together grow about twice that quantity each year.
The peanut does not grow on a shrub or tree, but on a vine. As the blossoms appear they are covered with earth and the nut develops in the ground, somewhat like potatoes. Unlike the potato, however, the nut is attached to the branch and not to the root of the vine. Commercially the peanut is grown not only for the whole nut but also for the manufacturing of peanut meal, peanut butter, and peanut oil.
Another odd underground or earth nut is the chufa, which is known also as the earth almond. The plant is a sedge or grass and, unlike the peanut, the nuts grow on the roots, like the potato. The chufa is eaten both fresh and dried and is a very, common food in Southern Europe.
Coconuts. The coconut palm may be found on almost any of the islands that dot the surface of the Pacific Ocean. There is an interesting story about the way in which many coconuts are planted.
Every year thousands of coconuts are blown from the trees into the water where they drift about until they are cast upon some friendly shore, there perhaps to take root and establish another grove. In this fashion practically every island of the Pacific that is not sheer rock has been planted with coconut palms.
The coconut has been transplanted to many other tropical regions of the globe and now there are great groves of coconut palms in the West Indies, in Ceylon, and in India.
Like the reindeer of Alaska, the coconut palm furnishes the natives dependent upon it with food, clothing, shelter, boat making materials, and many other necessary things.
The coconut palm has a long, slender trunk with neither leaf nor limb, except at the top, which has a "crown" of immense leaves and clusters of nuts. These nuts are covered with a thick, tough green husk. The nut itself has a hard, hairy shell, inside of which is a rind of white "meat" and as much as a cupful of "milk." This milk is decidedly agreeable to the taste and very refreshing.
There are two ways of harvesting coconuts. One is to have native pickers "walk" up the tree and pick them, and the other is to cut them with long-handled cutters. The former method is extremely picturesque. Clutching the trunk of the tree firmly with his hands, the native places his bare feet on its ribbed bark and, using both feet and hands to propel himself, clambers quickly to the top.
When the coconuts are very ripe they will fall of their own weight. After they have been gathered from the trees and the ground, they are heaped into immense piles, close to water when possible. The husks are gashed with a knife or spike and a thin strip of the fibrous covering torn partly off. Then they are tied in pairs and tossed into the water by the natives, who bind them into a continuous chain with cord made from the fiber of the coconut palm. These coconut chains are then formed into rafts and floated to market, or to some shipping point. Coconut rafts are usually propelled by long poles with which the natives "pole" their harvest to its destination. During harvest the waters bordering the coconut groves are crowded with acres of these curious rafts.
When the coconuts reach the market, expert workmen remove the husks. The coconuts are then sold, either to shippers who send them to all parts of the world, or to shredding factories, oil factories, or butter factories. In the shredding factories the coconut is shelled, dried, and shredded, then put in packages, or shipped in bulk to other plants where it is placed in containers to be used in cakes and candies. The commercial name for the dried coconut meat from which oil is pressed is "copra." In the United States alone 70,000,000 pounds of shredded coconut have been used in a single year. In addition to this we import annually almost 100,000,000 whole coconuts.
In other factories the meat of the coconut is made into oil and butter and exported to all parts of the world. The shells of the coconut are used for many purposes, notably ornaments and gourds.
Nutritious nut products. A number of different products are made from nuts, the most common, perhaps, being nut butters. No doubt we have all tasted peanut butter. There are many factories in the United States where thousands of pounds of it are turned out every day. It is really a very simple thing to make. The nuts are first shelled, then roasted, cleaned of chaff, carefully sorted, and finally ground into a soft, oily paste, to which salt is added. Nut butter is made of practically every oily nut, but the quantity of peanuts ground into butter is many times greater than that of all the other nuts combined.
Peanut oil is another nut product that offers great possibilities.
Nut milk is another product made from nuts.This is made by pouring boiling water on ground nuts, draining off the liquid, and allowing it to settle. Then a kind of cream or milk gathers. Some of these nut milks, especially that of the Java almond, are used as food for infants.
We can buy nut pastes, nut preserves, and candied nuts. In almost every country in the world nuts are used as ingredients in various dishes, in sirups, and for mixing with fruits for conserves.
But we must not forget the nut meals and nut flours which are used in many ways. Nut meal is considered easy to digest. Chestnut flour is used in bread and cakes, forming one of the principal articles of food of many people in France and Italy. Sweet acorns are also ground into flour and are said to make a very good bread. In fact, in various parts of the world, nuts take the place of such cereals as wheat, corn, oats, and barley.
Many centuries ago nuts were one of the principal foods of man, and in some countries this is still true. It would be difficult to imagine a way in which nuts are not eaten. Nut fritters, like our corn fritters, for instance, are very popular in Tuscany, Italy.
Have you ever tasted nut coffee? Nuts of many kinds are roasted and ground and a drink made of them in the way we prepare coffee. Roasted nuts also form an important part of certain popular cereal drinks. Since nuts contain oil, roasting affects them as it does coffee. So it is not surprising that drinks pleasing in taste may be made from them.
In the future when you think of nuts, you should remember that they are among the richest of all foods, that they can be prepared in a multitude of ways, and that they equal or surpass any other food in nourishment.