Sun Ra - Column for 12/13


My favorite are, I think, cashews. Sure, they're a bit more expensive, because they come from a tree and the nut is only the tiny appendage at the end of the fruit. At least, that's what they tell me. I've never actually seen a cashew tree, or a cashew fruit with the nut attached. But I have it on good, first-hand authority that that's the way it is.

Sometimes I wonder if cashew nuts are as popular in the tropical countries wherein cashews actually grow, or if they are happy to stick with the fruit and ship the more valuable nuts off to wealthy Northerners. Perhaps the nuts aren't considered the tasty part - climate plays a significant role in cuisine, you know. Spicy foods are native to hot climates not just because that's where the spices grow; after all, if we only ate what we grew the English national drink would certainly not be tea.

An interesting side note is that chocolate is a Northern phenomenon simply because cocoa butter has a very low melting point. So whereas in Kansas or Bavaria one can ship chocolate and keep it in stores, in places such as Cote D'Ivoire where they actually grow the stuff, no one eats chocolate because it simply doesn't stay solid. Oh, sure, they could if they wanted to, but other candies that don't require constant refrigeration are the staples.

Anyway, I was talking about nuts. Cashews are my favorites, yes. I am also a big fan of almonds. I like them raw, blanched, in foods, roasted, and I am a complete marzipan addict.

Maybe it's the cyanide (almonds contain trace amounts). I don't know, I just like almonds. By happy circumstance, my wife finds marzipan unappealing, which leaves any which we are given to me alone to eat. Usually. In one of those haystack/pitchfork moments, when we were traveling in Spain we discovered that Toledo has, as one of its signature products, marzipan.

Yeah, we thought it was odd, too, until we realized that Toledo was the capital of spain during the time it was ruled by the Austrian empire, and when Charles V became as well Carlos V and came to Toledo, he brought a bunch of his Austrian cooks and marzipan became a Spanish - or at least Toledan - food as well.

Anyhow, I was immensely gratified by this and bought a lot - Toledan marzipan is different from German marzipan, lighter and flakier and toasted, and quite good. (Not better, just different.) Sadly, my wife discovered that the small differences were enough that she actually quite liked Toledan marzipan, so I only got to eat half of the large box which I had purchased.

There is really no way to prepare almonds that I don't like. Although almond butter seems like a lot of effort for very little payoff; it's nothing to write home about, and simply eating the almonds would have been more satisfactory. Peanut butter, on the other hand... peanut butter is fantastic and is a definite improvement over peanuts.

Not that I don't like peanuts. Au contraire. They do, though, rank notably below cashews and almonds, which are the varieties that I will go through and pick out of a jar of mixed nuts.

But peanuts are good. I prefer peanut M&Ms to plain M&Ms, for instance. And I have already mentioned my fondness for peanut butter. They form a sort of third tier of nutty goodness.

Pistachios I like. More than peanuts, actually, probably up there with almonds. I also relish the experience of eating pistachios - sitting in a chair, snapping the nut open with my thumbs and discarding the shell. Pistachios force you to pace yourself, and the experience of eating them is enriched thereby. I've purchased pre-shelled pistachios, and torn through them by the handful; although as tasty as the in-the-shell sort, the experience of eating them isn't as good. There's a little effort/reward paradigm there that I get a kick out of.

Macadamia nuts. Strange, fatty nuts from Hawaii. I like them, though not enough to actually buy them. But given a jar of them I'd eat them rather than leave them on the shelf, which is what I'd do with, say, pecans.

And then there are the rest of the nuts. Walnuts, although a staple, don't do much for me. I can take them or leave them. I find that they detract slightly from chocolate chip cookies, or cakes, or other desserts. Brazil nuts and hazelnuts and pecans are also, although not bad, certainly not good. I would never purchase them.

I have a small soft spot for chestnuts, mostly due to literary connections. As food themselves, they are also bottom-drawer nuts. Acceptable but not desirable. However, they are tied in to lots of Western tradition that warms the cockles of my hearts. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, conkers, the vanished American Chestnut tree, roasted chestnuts. All that English-boarding-school Dickensian stuff that seems to have such merit mostly because we aren't living it. So I like chestnuts emotionally, but not gastronomically.

And I don't call hazelnuts "filberts". That's a silly name, unsuited to the otherwise sedate hazelnut. Although I do randomly and inexplicably quote from a comic strip I saw decades ago: "Filberts? Nobody likes filberts!"

Don't ask.

That's about it, really. Cashews I love, Almonds I really like, pistachios the same, peanuts and macadamia nuts are good, and all other nuts are ciphers. I don't think there are any nuts I actually find disagreeable, as I do, say, some lettuces.

Hmmm. Lettuces...

- Sun Ra

Columns by Sun Ra