The Walnut

The walnut is a fruit carefully protected by nature. Its thick outer husk and extremely tough shell are perfectly designed to conceal the fruit inside.

One of the world’s oldest foodstuffs, the walnut has been a friend of man for millennia. Nor is this a friendship limited to the richly colored natural dye made from its shell, or the scent of its dried leaves in hope chests, or the lovely furniture made from its wood, or the subtle and complex play of flavors its fruit produces on the palate.

The original home of the walnut extends southward from the Carpathian Mountains to Eastern Europe, Turkey, Iran and beyond the Himalayas. It is thanks to the Romans that this tasty nut came to southern and central Europe, where it also assumed the role of a potent symbol in the development of all the folk cultures and mystical beliefs that flourished there.

SPROUTING IN SPRING
Flowering in the early spring, the expertly designed walnut reaches maturity in fall following an involved and magical process. It is covered with a thick green outer husk which acts as a shield against sudden changes in temperature. This husk, which leaves stubborn black and green stains on the hands, is used in the production of natural dyes. From beneath the husk a jewel of a shell emerges, so beautiful it seems to be the work of a wood carver - the fruit, or nut, inside it obviously so important that nature conceals it carefully in this little shell as elegant as it is secure. Breaking that shell to get at the nut inside is a troublesome task even today, requiring a special nutcracker and nut picks.

MENTIONED IN THE CODE OF HAMMURABI
Full of surprises from start to finish, the walnut also numbers among the sacred fruits of the world and is one of the foodstuffs mentioned in the Old and New Testaments as well as in the Quran. It is counted among the fruits of God’s mercy in Mevlânâ Jelaladdin Rumi’s Mesnevi and Rubaiyat and used as a symbol in discourses on human life. Lines about the walnut even appear in the famous Code of Hammurabi, sixth king of the Babylonian dynasty, and in Roman civilization it was Jupiter’s royal fruit. Respected as a noble fruit among the Persians, it was used to pelt the bride and groom at Roman weddings in the belief that it brought fertility.

MUCH LOVED IN IRANIAN CUISINE
The walnut is used in countless recipes throughout the world in everything from soups to desserts. The Italians create a delightful taste by stealthily adding a few walnuts to their famous pesto sauce which employs pine nuts as its main ingredient. The French use a roux of flour and ground walnuts when making their walnut soup. But Iranian cuisine is the one of the biggest on the use of walnuts. In Turkey too walnuts enjoy a wide area of application. Plucked fresh from the branch while still green and unripe, the fruit is left to stand in a bath of slaked lime and then cooked in sugar syrup to produce the traditional ‘walnut taffy'. When the taffy is sliced in two, the sight of the walnut only just beginning to ripen, its semi-hardened woody shell, and its green outer husk is nothing short of magnificent. And the tart, mouth-puckering syrup leaves a taste on the palate that will take your breath away.

THE JOY OF FRESH WALNUTS
Piled high in the baskets of green grocers and street vendors, the walnuts sold fresh in early autumn are another treat altogether. In Turkey especially walnut is a popular flavor, and Turkish cuisine is famous for its ‘Circassian chicken’ which uses the nuts in their dried form. Similarly, ‘terator’ sauce, which can also be made with other nuts, is at its tastiest when made with walnuts. Formerly used as a topping for fresh boiled vegetables, nowadays it is served alongside fried mussels and squid but is not usually made from walnuts.

THAT MAGIC FRUIT
The walnut is also used as either a main ingredient in, or a garnish on, a number of desserts, sometimes as an accompaniment to stewed pumpkin, sometimes as a filling in baklava. Traditional baklava in particular was always filled with walnuts, and to my mind at least that is still the tastiest variety. It is difficult to find in any other nut the full-bodied, caramel-like taste that comes from the walnut and from the tannin in its shell. Walnut rolls (ceviz sucuğu) and sheets of dried crushed walnuts (ceviz pestili) have been made in Anatolia for thousands of years. These natural sweets are consumed with gusto all winter long.

When it comes to healthy eating, the virtues of the walnut are frequently extolled in the media. As I indicated at the outset, there must be a number of valid reasons why nature has taken such pains in producing the walnut and protecting it so carefully. You may have noticed crows trying desperately to crack the walnut’s shell by hurling it violently onto the ground. Such an expenditure of effort to get that magic fruit is a sign of intelligence and strength.

Recipes
Walnut Revani
Ingredients:
350 gr flour
15 eggs, separated
250 gr sugar
200 gr finely
ground walnuts

For the syrup:
2 kg sugar
2 kg water
juice of half a lemon

Preparation:
Place the egg whites in a bowl. Gradually adding the sugar, beat until they form peaks. Beat the egg yolks in a separate bowl. Mix in the flour and walnuts, then fold in the egg whites. Pour the mixture onto a greased baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes at 140 C. Remove from the oven and pour the cold syrup over the tart. Decorate with walnuts.

Walnut Tart
For the dough:
250 gr flour
130 gr butter
150 gr powdered sugar
1 egg white

For the filing:
100 gr whole walnuts
500 gr walnut meats
500 gr powdered sugar
4 egg whites
4 tbsp marmalade (apple or apricot)

Making the dough:
Mix together the ingredients to form a dough. Spread in a baking dish or pie pan, and crimp the edges.

Preparation:
Mix the walnut meats, powdered sugar and egg white to form a filling. Spread the marmalade over the dough in the baking dish. Then spoon the filling on top. Decorate with walnut halves and bake for an hour in a 140 C. oven. Cool and serve.

Old Woman’s Neck (Baklava)
Ingredients:
500 gr flour
10 gr salt
2 eggs
juice of a quarter lemon
100 gr salt
500 gr butter
For the syrup
500 gr water
750 gr sugar
juice of a quarter lemon
Pour the hot syrup over the baklava while it is still hot.

Preparation:
Mix all ingredients together to form a stiff dough. Let rest for half an hour. Divide into 12 parts, sprinkle each one with cornstarch and roll out very thin with a rolling pin. Cover each thin sheet with a layer of filling, roll up and place on a baking sheet. Score in a pattern of your choice. Melt 500 gr of butter and drizzle over the baklava. Bake around 35 minutes at 160 C., then remove from the oven. Drain off the excess oil and drizzle with the syrup.