Hierarchy of nuts

by Martin Field

Nuts are a favourite accompaniment to wine. They are delicious when served with bubbly and other aperitifs and a plate of nuts and dried fruit is obligatory when savouring a vintage port after dinner.

But did you ever notice that in any bowl of mixed nuts, in shell or not, certain varieties are always eaten in exactly the same order of preference?

On our dining table, we keep a big wooden bowl full of nuts in shell. Typically, macadamias, walnuts, brazils, almonds, pecans, and sometimes, hazelnuts.

(NB For the macadamias you need a special vice type nutcracker. We found a dusty thumbscrew in our dungeon that seems to do the job quite well.)

Anyway, scientific tests have proven that, assuming the bowl starts off with equal numbers of each nut type, the nuts will inevitably be consumed in the following order. First crackees are macadamias and walnuts, followed then by brazils and pecans (the pecans’ thinner shells are a bit fiddly), then come almonds, and, mouldering in last place, dull hazelnuts. The latter I’ve noticed, are used as a filler to bulk up bags of mixed nuts.

Bowls of unshelled nuts are slightly different. As well as the above mix, they’ll also contain cashews and peanuts. Apparently, nut packagers deem that any bag of shelled nuts shall contain three or four macadamias, six or seven cashews, a slightly greater number of brazils and walnuts and about ten times as many peanuts and hazelnuts as the rest combined.

As soon as a bowl of this mixture is put on the table there will be a flurry of grubby digits delving for the macadamias and cashews. The rest disappear in roughly the same order as the nuts in shell. The also-rans will be left with a few walnut crumbs and a detritus of rancid peanuts and hazelnuts.

A kettle of pistachios
Pistachios are another kettle of nuts, so to speak. Ever see anyone eat their first ever pistachio? There is a morbid fascination as you watch them put the whole thing in the mouth, hard shell and all, and start crunching.

A quizzical expression ensues as bits of old filling crumble and as the shell-shards hack into the tongue and gums and salt penetrates the exposed flesh. They’ll chew on bravely for a little while not wishing to be rude and then wander off quickly, dribbling, with a hanky over their mouth to arrange an urgent appointment with their orthodontist.

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