I just returned from a quick trip to Cape May, New Jersey on a perfect day that was part summer, part fall. Clear light blue skies, warm sun, a touch of coolness in the air, fewer tourists than before Labor Day, and lots and lots of nuts. The Jersey Shore has always had dozens of candy shops, mom and pop stores on small town boardwalks that sell countless flavors of salt water taffy and fudge. The little pieces of pale hued taffy are wrapped in white waxed paper and twisted at the ends, the fudge is displayed in hefty slabs, cut and sold by the ounce. But in the three stores that I popped in to, displays of nuts rivaled the taffy and fudge, nearly every one of our 16 favorites piled high behind the glass barriers, side by side with the sweet treats.
Salt water taffy has a long history as a seaside delicacy, although the name is misleading. There is neither salt nor water in most any of the flavored morsels. Legends about the confection date from over 100 years ago, with origins in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It is hard to tell when nuts and seeds joined the sweets in the boardwalk shops. Nuts are a perfect snack. They may not have the long history of taffy and fudge in these shops, but i think they are just if not more appealing. And they may not have their roots along the Jersey Shore, but to me, those beautiful, breezy beaches are a great place to snack on them.
Categorically, I dislike dried fruit. Raisins, figs, apricots, any and all of them. Whether cooked or eaten out of hand, they have a certain smell and texture that just does not appeal to me. But in one certain cookie, where pistachios play the biggest role, dried apricots reflect the glory of the other ingredients, and I am learning to like them, even just a little bit at a time.
Really, it is all about the pistachios in this cookie. Every summer, for the past 17 years, I have catered for the New York Philharmonic when they perform their Concerts in the Parks series. And, they are cookie junkies. They often eat upwards of 800 cookies in an evening, between the orchestra members, support staff, and stage crew. Every year I am challenged to come up with something new, and this year was the debut of the pistachio-apricot-white chocolate chunk cookie. I had created the recipe for a chocolate chip cookie class that I teach at the Institute of Culinary Education, and it was perfect to bake in large quantity. The dough can be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen, and can be sliced and baked as needed. Nothing like a refrigerator dough for ease of production.
I try to present 8 to 10 kinds of cookies at each concert, with a rotating repertoire of dozens. But these were a new-found hit, the verdant pistachios nearly the same color as the Great Lawn, where they were served in Central Park. I stood behind the dessert buffet line and watched as guests skillfully used tongs to move other yummy cookies out of the way to turn up one of these treasures. They all said it was the combination of the nuts and the pale orange fruit that made them great. Big chunks of sweet white chocolate could only help. Maybe my foray into the pleasures of dried fruit has begun. I’ll keep trying. If nuts are involved!
Here’s the recipe!
I just watched a video of a Canadian astronaut making and eating a peanut butter and honey sandwich in the weightless atmosphere of the International Space station. Out came the airtight wrapped tortilla (with an 18 month shelf life), spread with peanut butter stored safely in space in a plastic pouch. The pouch needed to be snipped open with a space scissors, the scissors remained tethered to the wall with a ribbon. The honey came out of a typical plastic bear container, squeezed from the tip of his head. The tortilla was folded in half, and eaten happily by the hungry astronaut. No regular bread, crumbs would defy gravity and float everywhere.
crunchy? smooth? It doesn’t matter. Peanut butter has shown itself to be ultimate convenience food. Tens of thousands of miles, and months away from earth, peanut butter provides protein, and an undeniable sense of home.
Nuts make the news so frequently these days. I find articles more often in the science section than I do in the food section of the newspaper. Today’s brief article in the New York Times says that walnuts may curb diabetes in women. Eight ounces a month will reduce risk by 24 percent. Different nuts have countless benefits, but this seems an easy, delicious and positive addition to a well-rounded diet. The reason why they are so helpful? Their unique benefits have not been quantified yet, but the national institutes of Heath are on the case.
My Uncle Jacob passed away this weekend at the age of 91, and he was a remarkable man. A playful adventurer and an opinionated intellect, Jacob was a publisher by trade, and an always willing helper in the kitchen. He mandolined French Fries, peeled carrots, and pushed warm, cooked apples through the food mill. He loved nothing more than a fresh baked roll with butter, and he washed every soiled dish he could find. He rightfully earned his nick name FOSP, for Food Service Professional. Prepping was his speciality, not cooking, but there was one thing he created and prepared, and it is a nut filled breakfast staple that he has passed on to my children.
Jacob made oatmeal in the mornings, and when it was almost finished, right off the stove, he would swirl a heaping Tablespoon of slightly sweetened peanut butter in to it. The heat of the oatmeal nearly melts the peanut butter, and the resulting cereal is streaked with warm streams of protein packed goodness. Top it off with a sprinkle of chopped peanuts, or a dollop of jam, and you are all set for the day. We’ve tried almond butter, not necessarily Jacob approved but delicious. Nutella is a natural addition too.
I’ll miss Jacob, for many reasons. He stood fast for his beliefs, said what he thought, and always lent a helping hand. Oatmeal swirled with any nut butter will always be his signature dish to me, and we can remember him each day we prepare it for breakfast.