How to snag kick-ass walnuts…

…and some first-rate pies while you’re at it.

Tasting local walnuts is like flying first class.

It taints you and makes it slightly dispiriting to revert to what used to be just fine (ie imported walnuts or cattle class).Australian walnuts

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

Do certain foods trigger a distinct memory for you?  Pies are one of my trigger foods.  They make me think of:KindyUniform

  • 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:

  1. Ah Soh would sprinkle raisins and sugar on the leftover dough and bake it as a sweet treat just for me.
  2. 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

Pie in the Sky shopWhen I first visited Pie in the Sky Roadhouse in 2010, Josh Pilkington and Milly Meng had just taken it over.

This specialty pie cafe has country charm in spades.  I had such delicious memories of the place that I went back again this autumn.

Pie in the sky sign with kid 1 Pie in the Sky sign with kid 2 
"Waiter! There's a child in my pics!"

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.

Selection of savoury pies at Pie in the Sky Roadhouse. 
Click on the pic for a closer look.
Pie counter

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.
pepper steak pie

Chicken pie for $6.50. Impressively large pieces of chicken. 
Gravy very tasty and highly chickeny, if a tad gluggy.
chicken pie

Chunky steak pie for $5.50. The kids scraped up every bit of gravy, 
and would've licked the plates had they been allowed.
chunky beef pie

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.

The charming interior of Pie in the Sky Roadhouse, 
complete with stuffed toys and jam for sale.
Toys in Pie in the Sky Inside Pie in the Sky Apples, jam

Being a stone’s throw from the apple farms, there were of course apple pies.

Family size for $10.50 takeaway, or $15 to eat in with cream/ice cream.
apple pie 4 apple pie 3

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.

fresh walnuts

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.

toasted walnuts tray 1 toasted walnuts

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.

cracking walnuts
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

Pick your own walnuts at picturesque Mt Irvine or Mt Wilson in the Blue Mountains, during the first half of autumn.  Any fresher and the walnut would be sidling up to you at the pub asking for a beer.

Australian walnutsPicking walnuts is easy.  Toddlers can do it.  Walnut trees are tall and leafy.  Ripe walnuts naturally fall from the tree.  So you harvest walnuts simply by picking them off the ground.

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).

Fresh walnuts Mt Tomah Fresh walnuts from Mt Tomah

#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.

cracked walnuts B

How you might use walnuts

1.  As a topping for this healthy seafood pasta.
2.  In this wholesome, no-hidden-stuff muesli. Click on links for recipes.

Squid ink linguine with seared fish My muesli

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.

My fig, goat's cheese, walnut and rocket salad sticky rice yaksik

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.

roasted walnuts tray 2A very sensible GP once gave me this tip:

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.

walnut b

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This is an independent, uncommissioned review.  FITK visited Pie in the Sky Roadhouse in April 2013, at own expense.
Pie in the Sky on Urbanspoon

Campsie Adventure

Stop suffering table envy at Malaysian eateries! 

Char kway teow Mee goreng Rice vermicelli fried with belacan

Join the Campsie Adventure for a Malaysian noodle banquet, with visits to three vastly different bakeries.  Book a Saturday event by clicking here, or have your own Campsie Adventure private event.

3 thoughts on “How to snag kick-ass walnuts…

  1. Ooh, French walnuts sound romantic already. You’re a bit closer to California than I am, so maybe you’ll spy walnuts in shells in your local market, perhaps around October or November.

  2. Pingback: Your outdoor apple store – apple picking | Feasting in the Know

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