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IN SEASON

Know Your Local Nuts

October 22, 1992|RUSS PARSONS

You may think you know a lot about food, but if you didn't recognize those green golf balls on today's cover as fresh walnuts, you can rest assured that you are not alone. Unless you have access to a walnut grove, you will probably never see them in that form.

The reason has to do with the way walnuts are harvested. When the nuts are ripe enough to split the husk, a machine attached to the limbs of the trees shakes them loose. The fallen nuts are picked up and taken to a central location where the green hulls are removed and the nuts are dried for five to six hours in a hot-air chamber almost like an oven, reducing the moisture content from approximately 14% to about 8%.

After that, the nuts are sorted for sale either in-shell or out. Most walnuts sold in the shell are of the Hartley variety, and most of these are sold overseas. It's assumed that Americans would rather leave the cracking to someone else.

Following last year's bumper crop of more than 260,000 tons, this year's harvest is projected to be in the neighborhood of 210,000 tons because, as one grower put it, "the trees are tired." Originally centered in Southern California, walnuts are now primarily grown in the northern San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys.

Fall is also the season for almonds and pistachios, both of which are grown extensively in California.

* This year's almond crop, which is centered around Chico in the Sacramento Valley, is estimated at 275,000 tons. That is about average, but down from last year's big crop. Almonds are harvested in much the same way as walnuts, but they aren't oven-dried. Instead, they are left on the ground for a few days to dry naturally. About 60% of the edible harvest is of the Nonpareil variety, though there are many other varieties planted since Nonpareils will not pollinate each other. Between 60% and 75% of the California almond harvest is exported, primarily to Germany and Japan.

* Pistachios come from Bakersfield through Madera, and require hotter temperatures than other nuts. Most pistachios in California are of the Kerman variety, which splits the shell most readily. The practice of dyeing pistachios, which began as a way to cover blemishes, is done here only at a customer's request.

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