The ‘-ber’ Months in Pinas is the season of harvest in the Northern Hemisphere.
It is the season of gettin’ nuts!
Edible nuts abound in Central Europe-Hazelnuts, Chestnuts, Walnuts can be found in many public parks and greeneries. (But no coconuts of course!)
The Hazelnut (Corylus avellana) thrive in parks or around the Viennese woodlands and one can surely hear seeds dropping sporadically as they mature- the symphony of the woodlands accompanied by birds singing during Autumn.
Interestingly one can savor Hazelnuts paste from the famous Nutella spread and Ferrero Rocher chocolates. (No wonder people go nuts over Nutella!).
Confectioneries use them to make chocolate truffles, pralines and hazelnut paste products. In Austria, hazelnut paste is an ingredient for making cakes or ‘torte’, such as Viennese hazelnut torte.
Chestnuts on the other hand are categorized to four main group species -American, Chinese, Japanese and European. Called the Sweet or Spanish chestnuts in Europe, mature seeds fall to the ground covered with ‘burrs’- hardy thorny thistles covering the nut inside it (imagine a hedgehog without a head, legs and tail).
Mostly imported from Turkey or from the Mediterranean coastline, one can find sweet chestnuts roasted in what the Viennesse locally call ‘Maronistand’ or chestnut kiosks mostly scattered around Vienna. (Maroni is the German word for edible chestnut). During this time of the year, one can smell the aroma of freshly roasted sweet chestnuts.
The nuts can also be eaten candied, boiled, steamed, deep-fried, grilled, or roasted in sweet or savory recipes. They can be used to stuff vegetables, poultry, fowl, and other edibles. Anything goes!
Candied chestnuts (whole chestnuts candied in sugar syrup), then iced are sold under the French name marrons glaćes.
In Hungarian cuisine, cooked chestnuts are puréed, mixed with sugar (and usually rum), forced through a riser, and topped with whipped cream to make a dessert called gesztenyepüré (chestnut purée).
Fascinatingly, the Walnut (Juglans cinerea) is a stone fruit and thus, not a true botanical nut. It is used for food after being processed, while green for pickled walnuts or after full ripening for its nutmeat or kernel.
Walnuts are also popular in brownie recipes, or as ice cream toppings, and are used as garnish. Nocino is a liqueur made from unripe green walnuts steeped in alcohol with syrup added.
We have an old glorious walnut tree growing which, during late Summer to early Autumn, we see competition busily gathering nuts beginning on the faintest break of light- squirrels are so crazy about walnuts they bury them in some secret place. In a way the tree needed their ‘furry-faced-friends’ to disseminate their next generation of walnuts. Squirrels think they have hoarded food to find out later the nut has disappeared to grow as a small plant come Spring. The symbiotic relationship lasts forever.
Palawan like the rest of the Philippine archipelago is blessed with Cocos nucifera. The word “Coconut” did not appear until after the Portuguese explorers in the 15th century. They described the coconut shell as a Coco or “grinning face” of a monkey because of its 3 dark holes at its base.
In the Middle Ages, coconuts were so rare and so cherished that their shells were polished and mounted in gold. By the 19th century, however, new transportation routes made them common in European markets. Nowadays, one can find mini brown coconuts in many European supermarkets. (To me they look like rejects from the Old Market in Puerto!?)
Most Europeans never know how to crack a mature coconut shell open- so coconuts stay most of the time on the shelves.
If however curiously bought, the ignorant buyer would crack it open rather unfashionably and eat the hard white meat from the shell feeling rewarded from the painstaking work of revealing the white flesh.
Amusingly, travel agencies in Vienna display small coconut plants with an inviting hammock with cocktail drinks on the side facing an immense blue beach portraying a well-deserved-winter-get-away vacation.
Compared to the other ‘nuts’, the coconut is perhaps of most economic value. Renowned as the tree of life – the whole tree aside from its ‘nuts’ can be processed and utilized for health uses, firewood, building materials, etc etc
Yet as the famous song implies the coconut nut is a big big nut but it’s not a nut! Last year the song became an internet sensation as it was sung by an all male choir group based in the US. The mood was so jolly as it was sung inside a plane midair. Most Pinoys went nuts over the video and it went viral.
Botanically speaking most so called ‘nuts’ are in fact seeds. We have peanuts, pili, cashew to name a few we Pinoys are familiar with. But the list can reach to 20 or more major groups of nuts found worldwide – pistachios, pine, almonds, macadamia, brazilian nuts, pecan, candlenuts or so the least.
The list of nuts can go on and on and we would never really understand why they are called ‘nuts’ when in fact they are not and the whole perplexity of each nomenclature. As Nat King Cole once sang it – Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…. Life is surely tastier if not ‘nuttier’ with them around.