Last year, my friend Rebecca gave me a garbage bag full of husked macadamia nuts in exchange for an avocado sapling. So I bought a heavy-duty nut cracker and obediently followed her directions for cracking and roasting them. “Watch them like a hawk!” she stressed. I enjoyed the process immensely.
Now that I have a cracker, I decided I needed my own source of mac nuts. Enter Stacy. She has a beautiful tree in her front yard in Waimea. She does not collect the nuts. She doesn’t want me to collect nuts for her. She doesn’t want any dehusked nuts. She doesn’t even want a cut of my roasted nuts. Yet she does buy nuts. This makes me believe that she may BE a bit nuts, but who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth?
Starting in November, I picked up nuts weekly. This thigh work-out went on through late December when I thought I had enough – about 60 pounds.
Before dehusking, they must dry out to make it easier to remove that outer part. I laid them on a table on my lanai, but soon ran out of space.
I hesitated to get my husband involved, because it would become a big engineering project. But as I ran out of table, I reluctantly asked for his advice on constructing a drying rack. Yup, it turned into a four story condominium with air. In the end, I was grateful. It’s the getting to the end that makes me bite my tongue.
And now dehusking: enter Rebecca again, or actually Carl, her friend. Rebecca had an old dehusking machine, purchased along with her house. Carl’s tinkering had it running again. I dragged my 60 pounds of nuts to her house in Laupahoehoe. (These are well traveled nuts: it’s 42 miles from Waimea through Honokaa to Laupahoehoe.) Carl lovingly showed off the little machine and deftly processed my nuts.
It was fun to watch them wiz out the chute while the husks spat out the front. I’ve always been fascinated by converting equipment, no doubt triggered by my product development days at Kimberly-Clark.
Not all nuts lose their husk the first time through. So we manually sorted them. Carl ran the stubborn ones through again, and a third time. Those 60 pounds of nuts with husks became 45 pounds of nuts in the shell.
The literature says to dry the nuts again before shelling. This drying step allows the nut to pull away from the shell and makes it easier to crack without breaking the nutmeat. When I can hear the nut rattling in the shell, they are ready. By this time the drying rack had grown to five stories and I was getting more advice than I wanted. But even this rack was not large enough to dry them all. So I put the excess into mesh bags, dragged them to the car, and drove around with them for three weeks. As the car sat in the sun, it heated up, drying the nuts.
Who will help me eat the nuts? “I will, I will,” cried everyone. Who will help me crack the nuts? Not a peep.
Oh well. My arm and back muscles are getting a great workout. If anyone challenges me to an arm-wrestling match, I can agree with a plausible chance of at least holding out for a few seconds. And it really is a wonderful physical meditation.
Next, I sorted the nuts by size: large, medium, small and schnibbles, a good German word we used back home to describe little bits. The nuts must be sorted before roasting, or the schnibbles will burn before the larger nuts turn color.
The great benefit to roasting your own nuts is that you can have them your way. I prefer mine very crunchy. So to really dry them out, I put them in the oven at 200 ̊ F for a couple hours. That serves me well – it can be cold in the morning in January/February with no heat in the house.
Finally, we come to roasting, that step when you can lose everything. All of the recipes I’ve seen, suggest roasting between 375 and 400 ̊ F. But it is so easy to burn them. Even the pan material makes a difference, as I found out with a batch of medium nuts that I separated into two pans, one aluminum and the other stainless steel. The aluminum pan transferred heat better and the nuts burned while the stainless nuts did not. (Well, actually they both burned but the aluminum pan nuts burned much worse. Don’t tell Rebecca of “Watch-Them-Like-a-Hawk” admonishments, but I confess to walking away from the stove and oven on occasion. Good thing I roast in small batches.)
It was while conducting that final oven-drying step that I discovered a better way of roasting – one that nearly guarantees I will not burn them. Now I just leave them in my oven at 200 ̊ F for 7 or 8 hours and they come out crunchy and beautifully roasted. (Discovered one day when I forgot they were drying in the oven. Oops.)
Final tally: of the original 60 pounds gathered, I obtained 10-15 pounds of roasted nuts. It seemed so little after picking, drying, dehusking, drying again, shelling, sorting, drying yet again and roasting. So I started gathering nuts all over again in January – picked up another 65 pounds.
No wonder mac nuts are so expensive. It’s loads of work before you taste that first bite. But so worth it. Today I roasted schnibbles.
For more on my mac nut adventures, see also Macadamia Academia.
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