…and some first-rate pies while you’re at it.
Tasting local walnuts is like flying first class.
I met my downfall 3 years ago at Mt Irvine, habitat of verdant chestnut and walnut trees. It’s a 2+ hour drive from Sydney, in the Blue Mountains.
That fateful day, I went to Mt Irvine via Bilpin via Pie in the Sky Roadhouse. Yes of course, before all else, LUNCH must come first. So let’s put aside those walnuts for now.
“Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.”
- Yogi Berra, former New York Yankee baseball star
- Sabre, my first dog – a gentle, slobbery brindle boxer,
- Ah Soh, the culinarily talented lady who took care of my family throughout my schooling years in Singapore.
Faced with a pie, I am a child again. It’s one of Ah Soh’s famous Pie Saturdays, to the delight of my family and my aunt’s family from across the road.
Our families often shared food, so we’d bring them Ah Soh’s pies and my instant-mix cakes (my coffee cakes were once uncharitably described as tasting like “dog shampoo” – oh, the enduring hurt).
Ah Soh made divine meat, curry and chicken pies, encased in a buttery shortcrust pastry.
I loved her pastry. Specifically, I loved her pastry dough offcuts. Two reasons:
- Ah Soh would sprinkle raisins and sugar on the leftover dough and bake it as a sweet treat just for me.
- She would give me a ball of dough to play with. That was my Play-doh. I’d squat outside, rolling and shaping it and generally having lots of fun by myself. Can you tell what’s coming?
One Pie Saturday, something distracted me from my ball of dough. When I turned back to it, it had vanished. In its place was a smiling, satisfied Sabre licking her chops. As I fumed and shook my fist, Sabre regarded me placidly and loped off.
Running indoors to seek sympathy, I was met with guffaws instead. From then on, all dough-playing was confined to the kitchen (from which Sabre the outdoor dog was banned).
Pie in the Sky Roadhouse, Bilpin
This specialty pie cafe has country charm in spades. I had such delicious memories of the place that I went back again this autumn.
You know how some meat pies are filled with mince of indeterminate origin, which could be horse-derived, for all we know?
Pie in the Sky Roadhouse leaves you in no doubt as to the provenance of its beef pie filling. It’s dead cert cow meat: in all its slow-cooked, fall-apart tender, beefy, chunky glory, surrounded by brown sauce, curry or enough pepper to rattle Iron Man’s pots.
The French-style puff pastry is very buttery and rich.
So, in a rare display of calorific restraint, four of us shared three pies. It is a credit to Meng and Pilkington that we each named a different pie as our favourite.
Pepper steak pie for $5.50. My favourite. I'm a sucker for black pepper anything. Even better when it accompanies a pie filling of plentiful beef chunks, with gravy in the appropriate amount and consistency. Chicken pie for $6.50. Impressively large pieces of chicken. Gravy very tasty and highly chickeny, if a tad gluggy. Chunky steak pie for $5.50. The kids scraped up every bit of gravy, and would've licked the plates had they been allowed.
The only minor gripe is that the pies, though warm, could have been served hotter. Or perhaps they’d cooled by the time they’d finished posing for my photos.
Being a stone’s throw from the apple farms, there were of course apple pies.
More details: Pie in the Sky Roadhouse.
How fresh are those walnuts?
There’s no looking back once you’ve savoured locally-grown, fresh-off-the-tree walnuts. I can’t go back to shelled Californian walnuts, even though these are available year-round, and the Aussie ones aren’t.
What’s the difference, you ask. I’d say the difference is about as marked as Jaws versus Nemo.
Local walnuts are plump and creamy. The clincher? They’re discernibly sweet.
I bet Californian walnuts taste sweet too, when fresh off the ground in California. But by the time they reach Australian shores sans shells, they’ve lost some freshness and flavours. You see, the nuts’ volatile oils go stale with time (especially when stripped of shells), making the nuts lose their flavour.
Lessons from Australian walnuts
Hard Fact #1:
I get to eat walnuts only in autumn – the only time local walnuts are in season.
Lesson: It’s satisfying to eat seasonal, local food at its freshest, and properly savour it.
Solution: Make like a chipmunk. In autumn, when local walnuts in their shells appear in the shops, stockpile them. Crack and store in airtight containers in the fridge. Toast just before eating.
Hard Fact #2:
“Working” for my food. I must now crack walnuts before I can eat them.
Lesson: Delayed gratification. Instead of relying on food that only requires ripping out of the packet to reveal its processed glory.
Solution: Tee hee. I am immensely lucky: a twinkly-eyed elderly gentleman helps me crack walnuts. Mr S is my children’s Chinese tutor’s husband. He patiently, masterfully cracks the shell with a mortar and pestle, and extracts the nuts WHOLE.
Plan B when Mr S isn't around: Convince a child that cracking walnuts is not just great fun, but an oh-so-impressive demonstration of strength.
Where to find the freshest walnuts in Sydney
Though it’s pretty simple to pick walnuts, we found the drive there winding and bumpy, thanks to the old faithful sedan. Offroaders would probably make mincemeat of that road.
In Sydney in autumn? Here are other ways to snag those fresh Aussie walnuts in shell, without actually getting under a walnut tree.
#1. Get Mt Irvine walnuts from apple farms when you go fruit-picking in Bilpin (watch out for an upcoming blog post on this).
#2. Look out for Australian walnuts in shell, at farmers’ markets, Sydney Markets, fruit barns, Korean grocery shops and sometimes even your local Big Supermarket. Walnuts in Sydney’s shops may come from as far as Tasmania or South Australia. They’re drier than the NSW nuts, but still pretty good.
How you might use walnuts
3. In a salad with figs, goat’s cheese and rocket.
4. You might also spy walnuts in yaksik, a sweet, cinnamony Korean snack made with sticky rice, dried fruit and nuts.
5. Toast walnuts in a 150 degrees Celsius oven to crisp them up. Eat them unadorned. Feel the omega-3 oils coursing through your body, doing good to your brain and your heart.
Got the late-night munchies? Stem them by snacking on walnuts, but don’t go overboard; eat no more than a closed fistful of nuts.
A neat and simple way to remember the appropriate quantity, wouldn’t you say?
And that’s a perfect, no-mess snack to bring on board budget flights, for the times one cannot fly full-service, much less first-class.
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