This time of year, California farmers tend to go nuts.
“It’s raining pistachios right now,” said Judy Hirigoyen, vice president of global marketing for the American Pistachio Growers. “This year, the nuts really came through for us.”
October is the height of harvest for the state’s big three nut crops: almonds, walnuts and pistachios. After a chilly winter, all three harvests will be huge. Pistachios and walnuts are expected to set records.
How big? Last year’s pistachio crop totaled 270 million pounds. This year’s estimate tops 800 million pounds, eclipsing the 2012 record harvest of 555 million pounds, Hirigoyen said.
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Likewise, walnuts are forecast to top 1.34 billion pounds, a 15 percent increase over 2015’s record crop.
“We’re only 35 to 40 percent into the harvest, but overall we’ve heard good things,” said Dennis Balint, executive director of the California Walnut Board. “It should be a pretty darn good year. Not that long ago, we were lucky to harvest 300,000 tons (or 600 million pounds).”
Almonds, too, put in a solid performance with the state’s crop forecast to hit 2.05 billion pounds, up 7.9 percent from 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That estimate is just above the state’s almond record of 2.03 billion pounds, set in 2011. After everything shakes out, the almond harvest could reach an all-time milestone, too.
That’s good news for consumers, who will find an abundant supply of fresh nuts this fall and winter.
“Day-to-day prices should remain stable,” Balint said. “Consumers might see a little more in-store promotion toward the holiday season.”
This is a boon not only for California nut lovers, but nationwide – and beyond. California supplies virtually all of America’s almonds and walnuts plus 98 percent of its pistachios.
California farmers also send these nuts around the globe. Tree nuts represent the state’s No. 1 export. More than 80 percent of the world’s almonds are grown in the Central Valley, and two-thirds of California almonds go overseas. About one-fourth of all pistachios are California-grown, too; 60 percent of the state’s pistachios are exported.
“We can’t keep up with world demand,” Hirigoyen said. “The popularity of pistachios is just exploding internationally.”
The main difference this year wasn’t rain (although that helped) but cold, say the farmers.
“Last year, the trees didn’t get the amount of chill hours they needed,” Hirigoyen said. “Pistachios need 800 chill hours (between 32 and 45 degrees) during dormancy to set fruit. This year, they got the chill.
“Also, the Sierra snowpack was nearer normal. That helped replenish the aquifers and helped the trees that had been stressed by drought.”
“The winter weather was much improved,” added Lincoln’s Thom Dille, general manager of Fiddyment Farms and its 630 acres of pistachios. “The trees underperformed the last two years, so they had a lot of stored-up energy.”
Like other pistachio farmers, Dille gave his trees a second shake to harvest all those extra nuts.
“We started harvesting in August, and we’re still harvesting,” he said. “We’re getting a lot of medium-size, good-quality nuts.”
Besides the big three, other nuts are finding their way to market, too.
About 5,000 acres of commercial pecan orchards now dot California from Chico to Bakersfield. (By contrast, almond acreage totals more than 1 million.)
Although California ranks seventh out of 14 pecan-growing states, Central Valley pecan farmers boast the nation’s highest per-acre yield, according to the California Pecan Growers Association.
Pecans, the only commercial tree nut native to the United States, can succeed where other nuts have issues, say growers. For example, pecans can withstand flooding, a plus for the Sacramento Valley. But pecan trees tend to need more water than other nut trees.
Hazelnuts, also known as filberts, are native to California, but the commercial variety beloved for flavoring coffee and confections is its European cousin, the common hazelnut.
California’s native hazelnuts, which are also called “beaked hazelnuts” due to their ducklike bill, grow in dry woodlands and the edges of mountain forests. More large shrub than tree, this plant was an important food source for American Indian tribes that called Northern California home.
But California hazelnuts struggle in the Central Valley, where it can be too hot and dry for these finicky shrubs. Hazelnuts are wind-pollinated in winter and need very specific growing conditions to produce good crops.
In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, 99 percent of the nation’s commercial hazelnut crop is grown on about 28,400 acres. Because of rising demand, Oregon hazelnut orchards are expanding by 3,000 acres a year, according to their growers association.
Hazelnut honey cake
Adapted from the National Honey Board.
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup dry red wine
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup finely chopped hazelnuts
Honey wine glaze (optional)
Powdered sugar (optional)
Combine honey, butter, wine and eggs; beat thoroughly.
Combine flour, baking soda, lemon peel, spices and salt; mix well.
Add dry ingredients to honey mixture; beat until thoroughly mixed. Stir in hazelnuts.
Pour into greased and floured 13- by 9- by 2-inch pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes on rack; invert cake onto serving plate or tray. Brush with honey wine glaze or dust with powdered sugar. Slice and serve.
Honey wine glaze: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine 1/2 cup honey, 2 tablespoons dry red wine and 1/2 teaspoon ginger. Heat through until the consistency is thin enough to brush over warm cake.
Slaw with pears and toasted hazelnuts
Crispy, crunchy, creamy – all in each bite of this delicious side dish, with cabbage, fennel and pear.
The recipe calls for raw eggs: If you are concerned about the risk of salmonella, use pasteurized eggs, available in select supermarkets.
Make ahead: The dressed slaw needs to sit at room temperature for an hour before serving. The slaw can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day.
Adapted from “Spring: The Cookbook,” by Skye Gyngell (Quadrille).
For the slaw:
1 cup (120 grams) shelled and skinned hazelnuts
1/4 red cabbage, cored
1/4 green cabbage, cored
1 fennel bulb, peeled
2 firm, ripe pears
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
Freshly ground black pepper
For the dressing:
1 large egg yolk
1/2 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon good-quality cider vinegar
3/4 cup mild-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons whole or low-fat buttermilk
For the slaw: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet. Toast (middle rack) for 4 to 5 minutes or until fragrant and golden brown. Let them cool, then coarsely chop half of them.
Finely slice the red and green cabbage into thin ribbons, placing them in a large bowl as you work. Remove the tough, fibrous outer layer from the fennel; cut the bulb in half lengthwise, discard the core and then slice the bulb very finely. Add to the cabbage.
Halve the pears and remove the cores, then cut the pears into thin slices. Add to the bowl of cabbage and fennel. Add toasted nuts and the parsley. Toss lightly, and season well with salt and plenty of pepper.
For the dressing: Whisk together the egg yolk, mustard, honey and vinegar in a liquid measuring cup. Season with a little salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in the oil, almost drop by drop to begin with, increasing the flow slightly once the dressing begins to emulsify. Continue until all the oil is incorporated. Stir in the buttermilk, then taste, and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
Pour the dressing over the slaw; use your fingertips to mix gently but thoroughly. For best flavor, let it sit at room temperature for an hour before serving.
Per serving (using low-fat buttermilk): 360 calories, 4 g protein, 20 g carbohydrates, 31 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 80 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 11 g sugar
Almond gazpacho with grapes
Bread replaces the tomatoes found in a traditional gazpacho. Adapted from “Big Vegan: More than 350 Recipes No Meat / No Dairy All Delicious” by Robin Asbell (Chronicle Books)
One 3-inch white baguette, crust removed
1/2 cup slivered almonds, plus more for topping
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup ice water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups seedless green grapes, halved
1 cup finely diced cucumbers
In a food processor, combine baguette, almonds, vinegar, garlic and salt. Process, adding ice water gradually to make a smooth purée.
With machine running, drizzle in oil. Transfer purée to a medium bowl or tureen, then stir in grapes and cucumber. Refrigerate for up to three days until serving. Before serving, top the soup with a few slivered almonds for an additional crunch.
Pistachio and feta dip
This quick, hearty dip is herby and only mildly salty, which is surprising given how much feta is in it. Serve with hunks of focaccia or rye crisps.
Make Ahead: The dip can be made and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance. Adapted from “Persiana: Recipes From the Middle East & Beyond,” by Sabrina Ghayour (Interlink).
3 1/2 ounces (scant 1 cup) roasted unsalted pistachios
Generous 1/4 cup olive oil 10
1/2 ounces good-quality feta cheese, broken into small chunks
1 handful fresh dill, coarsely chopped
2 handfuls cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 fresh red Thai chili pepper (seeded if desired), coarsely chopped
Heaping 3 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt (regular or low-fat)
Finely grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
Combine the pistachios and oil in a food processor; puree for 30 seconds, then add the feta, dill, cilantro, garlic, chili pepper, yogurt, and lemon zest and juice.
Purée for about 1 minute or until the mixture has a nice, rustic texture. Any chunks of feta that are left should be no larger than a pea.
Taste, and season with a small pinch of salt. Serve at a cool room temperature.
Walnut-crusted chicken breasts
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes
Coating chicken breasts in a walnut crust is an easy way to put a different spin on chicken. Walnuts, bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese are the main players in the coating. Once coated, the chicken gets a brief sauté so the walnut crust adheres to it and then it's baked, not fried. Baking crisps up the exterior and cuts down on the fat and calories. Serving the chicken on a bed of greens rounds out the meal.
Adapted from "Power Foods" by the editors of Whole Living Magazine (Clarkson Potter, $24.99).
2 slices 100 percent whole-wheat bread, dried
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted if desired
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 large egg white
Coarse salt and ground pepper
4 chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless (6 ounces each)
1 tablespoon canola or grapeseed oil
Lemon slices, for serving
Salad greens for serving, optional
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a food processor, combine bread, walnuts and Parmesan; season with salt and pepper. Process until fine bread crumbs form. Transfer to a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl, beat egg white until frothy.
Season chicken with salt and pepper. Dip each breast into egg white, letting excess drip off, and then into crumb mixture, pressing to adhere.
In a large, nonstick, ovenproof skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add chicken and cook until lightly browned, 1 to 3 minutes. Carefully turn chicken over and put skillet in oven. Bake until chicken is golden brown and cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Serve chicken with lemon slices and green salad.
Per serving: 331 calories (27 percent from fat), 10 g fat (2 g sat. fat), 9 g carb., 44 g protein, 603 mg sodium, 101 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber
Recipe from “Cook’s Country Best Potluck Recipes” via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
2 cups unsalted pecans
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon kosher salt (or 3/8 teaspoon table salt)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon rum, preferably dark
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon brown sugar
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the pecans evenly on the prepared baking sheet. Toast until fragrant and the color deepens slightly, about 8 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through. Transfer the baking sheet with the nuts to a wire rack.
Meanwhile, combine the granulated sugar, salt, cinnamon, cloves and allspice in a medium bowl; set aside.
Bring the rum, butter, vanilla and brown sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Stir in the toasted pecans and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the nuts are shiny and almost all the liquid has evaporated, about 1½ minutes.
Transfer the glazed pecans to the bowl with the spice mix; toss well to coat. Return the glazed and spiced pecans to the parchment-lined baking sheet to cool. The nuts can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
Per serving: 194 calories; 19g fat; 2g saturated fat; 4mg cholesterol; 2g protein; 4g carbohydrate; 2g sugar; 2g بber; 181mg sodium; 20mg calcium.
Tuna, dill and garlic pasta with hazelnuts
This pantry-friendly recipe is easy to scale back to 2 servings, but leftovers taste great cold. Try adding chopped celery or carrots to the latter.
If the taste of raw garlic doesn't agree with you, pop the whole cloves into the pasta pot for a few minutes, then let them cool before mincing.
Serve with a salad of peppery greens.
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the cooking water
8 ounces fresh linguine
1/2 cup hazelnuts (skin-on or skinned)
3 cloves garlic
Small handful fresh dill
10 to 14 ounces (from 2 cans) good-quality tuna packed in olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add a good pinch of salt, then the pasta. Cook just until tender, then drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water.
Meanwhile, toast the hazelnuts in a small, dry skillet over medium heat, shaking the pan often to avoid scorching, just until the nuts are fragrant and lightly browned in spots. Cool, then coarsely chop.
Smash, then mince the garlic. Finely chop the dill.
Place the tuna and its oil (to taste; if you like a lot of tuna, use the whole cans) in a pasta serving bowl; use a fork to break up any large clumps of fish. Add the garlic, dill, the just-cooked pasta and its cooking water; toss gently to incorporate. Mix in a few grinds of pepper and the 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
Divide among bowls; garnish with the hazelnuts. Serve right away.
Castelvetrano olive-almond salsa
Recipe from “Around the Fire” by Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quinonez Denton.
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup coarsely chopped pitted Castelvetrano olives or any mild green olives
½ cup coarsely chopped toasted slivered almonds
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon crushed chipotle chili flakes or chipotle powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
In small bowl, combine oil, olives, almonds, lemon juice, orange zest, oregano, chipotle and salt. Mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.
Let sit at room temperature for up to 1 hour before serving. (Salsa can be made up to 1 day ahead, but leave out chopped almonds until just before serving to retain their crunch.)
Serve with grilled vegetables.
Per serving: 141 calories; 14g fat; 2g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 2g protein; 3g carbohydrate; no sugar; 1g fiber; 22mg sodium; 231mg calcium.