We received some great food-and-drink gifts over the holidays — sweet Comice pears; salt-kissed chocolate bars; silky goat’s milk caramel sauce; top-shelf tequila; and two pounds of Hickory Kane Cornmeal, which I’m hoarding, as it makes incredible corn bread.
But one gift I am especially enjoying surprises me: A heavy bag of unshelled hazelnuts. Unadorned but exquisite, they now sit in a deep orange bowl on our dining-room table, within easy reach of anyone needing a quick snack. But not too quick. This is a pleasure one needs to work at a little to enjoy. It may sound, well, nutty, but I have noticed that those few moments it takes to select and crack a nut, and to extract the nugget of nutmeat from a palmful of broken shells — those few seconds require something that feels a little like gratitude, a little like intention: Grace at the nut bowl.
It’s such a contrast to the experience of eating a handful of salty nuts from a cellophane pack — a perfectly good thing to do on occasion. It’s just different. And I kind of like it.
Our hazelnuts too remind me of the wide basket of unshelled mixed nuts my mother often set out when I was growing up — exotic Brazil nuts, giant walnuts, delicate almonds, and — at least in that place and time — unfamiliar filberts. So for me, each nutmeat has the taste of nostalgia, too — a not entirely unwelcome flavor.