Friday, October 19, 2007

A Nut by Any Other Name

October 19th

It seems terrible that “the finest nut in the world” has all but lost its association with its country of origin. The success of Hawaii in its commercial exploitation of the macadamia has led to many people around the world believing that that it originated there. Even the linguistic association was lost when the 1932 marketing name of “Australian Nut” officially gave way to the “Macadamia Nut” in 1958 – thanks to the Queensland Department of Primary Industries.

The two edible species of the Genus Macadamia are native to a mere 600km stretch of coastal land from Grafton to Marybororough. Long before colonisation the nuts were prized by local Aboriginal people (who called it ‘Kindal-Kindal’), who also traded them and extracted the oil for medicinal and cosmetic purposes. It is the only Australian native food to be grown commercially on any significant scale.

Ludwig Leichardt (who we have met before in previous stories) is credited with collecting the first botanical specimen from near present-day Kilcoy, on September 18th 1843. That specimen is still in the Melbourne National Herbarium. At a scientific meeting in 1857 it was given its botanical name by Dr. Ferdinand von Mueller, who dedicated it to “John Macadam Esq. M.D. the talented and deserving Secretary of our Institute". Unfortunately the accompanying drawing was of the wrong plant, there was no mention of the fruit, and John Macadam (who became Post Master General in 1861) almost certainly had never eaten the nuts.

The first cultivated Macadamia was planted in 1858 in what is now the Brisbane Botanic Gardens. It was another three decades before the first orchard was established near Lismore, at about the same time as seeds were taken to California and Hawaii. By the 1920’s the industry looked promising in Australia, but it fell into a decline by the 1940’s, allowing it to be overtaken by production in Hawaii where it was better supported financially and scientifically. I

In 1998 Australia once again became the worlds biggest producer of macadamias. In view of the fact that macadamias are high in mono-unsaturated oils, perhaps we should lobby for another name change to “The Australian Health Nut” as it seems unlikely – even in these locavore days – that the name “Queensland Nut” will ever be re-instated.

As everyone with a back-yard tree knows, the incredibly hard shell is a barrier to entry to the delicious nut: it is all too easy to end up with muscle fatigue and a pile of mashed nuts+shells. Perhaps this accounts for the dearth of macadamia nut recipes in early Australian cookbooks. This recipe, from the 1930’s Australian Cookery for Today, would adapt pretty well, I think.

Nut Salad.
2 hard-boiled eggs
¼ lb shelled walnuts
1 young lettuce
¼ lb cream cheese
slice onion.
Take the yolk from one egg and reserve it. Chop the remainder of the eggs finely. Wash and dry the lettuce. Rub the inside of a salad bowl with a cut onion, and put in the lettuce. Add a layer of chopped egg sprinkled with mayonnaise, then a layer of chopped nuts, and then another sprinkling of egg. Continue the layers and finish with a liberal lay of mayonnaise. Rub the egg yolk through a sieve, sprinkle it over the salad, and surround with cream cheese in small balls.

On this Topic …

The Australian Macadamia Society has an impressive archive of recipes.

Monday’s Story …

Stocking the Shelter.

Quotation for the Day …

He that eateth well, drinketh well;
he that drinketh well, sleepeth well;
he that sleepeth well, sinneth not;
he that sinneth not goeth straight through Purgatory to Paradise
William Lithgow, Rare Adventures (1614)


T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

I had no idea of the history here or the variety of names given this nut. The nut salad sounds delightful.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello t.w
I feel compelled today to go and make my macadamia and orange biscotti to have with coffee tonight - friends coming over for an easy dinner and a movie on our big screen. Lovely.
Of course, the urge to bake comes on immediately I sit down to do the hard work of real writing ... The Menus from History Book awaits me .... but the biscotti tempt me.
[instruction to self. stop procrastinating and WRITE.]

Liz + Louka said...

I always used to call them Queensland nuts; not sure when I started saying macadamias. Apparently a woodworking vise is good for cracking them - that's what my grandfather used.

Liz + Louka said...

By the way, your link to the Australian Macadamia Society goes to the Wayback Machine instead.

The Old Foodie said...

Oops! Thanks Liz - I have fixed the link. I have no idea how I did that. Yes I do. In a hurry. Not checking. Or just stupid.

Rayne said...

I had no idea the macadamie originated in Australia or that it had such an interesting history. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Janet, any chance you'd be willing to post your biscotti recipe? I just happen to have two containers of macadamias on hand asking to be used. I too had no idea macadamias originated in Australia. Ignoramus that I am, thought they were Hawaiian in origin!

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Colleen: recipe posted. Enjoy it.