Lurking in the Cupboard #3: Nutcracker (the utensil, not the ballet)

December 11, 2012

I used to be able to name every nut that there was…”

Ah, yes, the deadpan boast from actor/director Christopher Guest in the mockumentary Best in Show* came to mind when looking for our nutcracker. 

It’s that time of year when nuts in shells are available – a nice change from those annoying gusseted packets mostly containing small rancid crumbs.

With a nutcracker required for the Northern Italian sweets and cakes on our Christmas menu, third drawer down in mother’s kitchen cabinets is usually a good bet. It belonged to my great-grandfather in Italy and crushes walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts. Flip it over and it takes care of the smaller almonds. Brilliant. And it’s not the plier shaped type used for cracking lobsters and crabs. Let’s keep the traces of nuts away from shellfish in case of allergies.

I love the texture of nutshells. I like the sound of cracking them open. And I’m amused by the word ‘nuts’ itself. Silver engraved nutcracker

So many good linguistic expressions too:

Drives me nuts

. Nuts to you

. I’m nuts about you

. You’re a hard nut to crack

. I’m a history nut

. In a nutshell

My mother often tells the childhood story of climbing her grandmother’s huge backyard walnut tree with her cousins, dropping heavy nuts onto the table below where old folks had gathered for a serious game of dominoes. Splat!

Walnuts are my favourites – as they were with the early Romans, who considered them food for Gods. What else can boast being a health food, growing on a tree with prized wood and is a magician’s prop in the ‘Three Shell and Pea’ game?

Having assorted nuts at the Christmas dinner table is great for conversations when passing round the nutcracker. If you don’t have a nutcracker, use a hammer. Or with macadamias, get a cockatoo to attack the hard shell.  On second thought, a parrot hopping around the dinner table is not terribly elegant.

Walnut Sauce for pastaOne of my favourite pasta sauces is made from walnuts and originated in the Liguria region of north-western Italy – the home of pesto. Here’s Nigella’s recipe for the walnut sauce Salsa di Noci.

One of my unfavourite things however is pickled walnuts. The English love them, but has anyone else tasted those squishy black blobs floating in brine? If you must tamper with green walnuts, make a liqueur like Nocino and drizzle it on gelato.

*And the last word on nuts – from this scene in Best in Show (2000) 



  1. You’re nuts! Love this post. We had a family nutcracker when i was growing up in the UK. But with six of us fighting for it, the other alternative was to use a huge, decorative stone/rock that my parents kept next to the fire. The sound of that stone, smashing walnuts is a sound i will always remember and associate with family, Christmas and fires! I, too, love walnuts – they’ve always been my fave. But i also think the humble hazelnut is under-appreciated. That’s it … i’m off nut shopping this weekend. Best get cracking!

  2. Thanks Rachel. Yes, I’m quite fond of hazelnuts too, although they seem hard to find these days. Their shells remind me of faux timber veneer contact paper.

  3. One of my favorite movie lines of all time, as Harlan Pepper is waved goodbye on his way to the dog show… ” If you’re feelin’ tired, pull over, if you’re feelin’ hungry, eat somethin’! “

    • Isn’t it great Ross? High time I revisited it for a good larf I think.

  4. A great post but you’ve got me going nuts with thinking what’s the association with nuts and craziness. Having said that, I also have fond memories of chestnuts in Paris …

  5. I think in 19th century England, a head was referred to as a ‘nut’, so someone who was crazy was ‘off his/her nut’. And if you think about it, the innards of a walnut look like a brain.

  6. With regard to good linguistic expressions, who can format that old chestnut “aowww, my nuts!” ? I like them picked as well 🙂

    • Ooooh yes, makes your eyes water. Since writing the post, I’ve thought of so many more expressions. How about ‘Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while’?

  7. I love my nutcracker and have memories of dad cracking walnuts in front of the tv and handing them out to the kids. Pickled walnuts – never!

    • I think pickled walnuts look like they belong in a science lab!

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