If ever there was a perfect nut for the December holidays, it’s the red walnut. The skin covering the creamy white nutmeat is almost uncanny in its deep, beaujolais-red color. You might be tempted to think someone got frisky with a bottle of red dye, or suspect that there’s some wacky genetic modification going on, but in fact, it’s the result of grafting Persian red walnut trees onto the more common English walnut trees, because English walnuts are larger, creamier nuts.
Interestingly, what we call the English walnut is actually native to Persia. The English became linked with the walnut, not because they grew them commercially—they didn’t—but because English sea merchants traded them all around the world. These days, California produces about three-quarters of the world’s walnuts.
You’d never know a red walnut by its shell. It’s the same shade of beige as an English walnut. It isn’t until you carefully crack one open that the scarlet hue reveals itself. If the color doesn’t hook you, the flavor will. Red walnuts have a richer, nuttier essence, without the bitter tannins you often find in English walnuts. Once you try some red walnuts, you’ll find it hard to keep your hands out of a bag of them.
I can’t wait to make our Perigord Walnut Tart with them, or our Whole Wheat Bread with Walnuts and Cranberries. Holiday baking just got a lot more fun with these red walnuts! Supplies are limited, so be prepared to pay more for red walnuts. A good source is nuts.com.