Squirrel Food & the Six Tastes

Rosemary Fig Walnut Butter
Yield: About 2 Cups

Ingredients:
– 4 cups of Walnuts, divided
~ 2 cups toasted walnuts @ 350 F for 5-8 minutes (or until fragrant and nutty brown)
~ 2 cups untoasted/raw walnuts
– 8 unsulfured dried Turkish figs- torn into pieces or chopped
– 1/3 cup Brown Sugar, loosely packed
– 1 ½ tsp of chopped fresh Rosemary
– ½ tsp of salt  


1. Process the raw and toasted walnuts* in the food processor for 5-10 minutes** scraping down the sides as needed.

*The nuts actually release their oils quicker if they are processed fresh out of the oven. I made one batch that used exclusively toasted walnuts, but the outcome was bitter and hardly palatable.  However a combination of raw and toasted is sublime. You see, walnuts hints of an astringent taste, this is due to the naturally occurring tannins and catechin found on the papery skin (pellicle) surrounding the kernel.  The astringent taste dries out the mouth and palate. Some examples of other astringent foods are green apples, grape skins, black tea and pomegranates. Astringent is actually a taste that is often lacking in the American diet. It is great for balancing both Kapha (Earth+ Water) and Pitta (Fire+ Water) and should be experienced daily, if not with every meal.

**The processing time really varies depending on the power of the food processor. I often find that it takes closer to 5 minutes. Here are the stages of making nut butter: Whole nuts spin to become something reminiscent of a whole grain flour or meal. Next, the meal begins to coalesce to the consistency of cookie dough.  Eventually, the heat produced from friction and the spinning blade will result in the nuts releasing their cache of precious oils. Voila! Smooth creamy nut butter. It’s really a fascinating process to observe, similar to watching a lava lamp, remember those? You know, those psychedelic lamps with gobs of melting wax that you and your comrades would gather around to observe on a Friday night? Hey now, I grew up in the suburbs, okay? To this day my friends and I claim that there must have been something in the water that kept us chaste, sober and out of mischief… unless you count ding-dong ditching your own house.  Anyway, I digress.

2. Add the Figs, Brown Sugar, Rosemary and salt. Process until desired consistency.
 
Only after the nuts have been ground to a fine paste can you toss in the remaining ingredients. Adding even the salt prematurely may interfere with the release of the oils. The nuts will seize up, simply put, you will not have nut butter (mew).  More likely, you will end up with a product that is great formed into balls and dipped in chocolate, not a huge loss, just not the same.
 
3.Season to taste- adding more salt, figs, rosemary as needed. Devour.
 

Nom, nom. Now that you have crafted your Rosemary Fig Walnut butter, let’s look a bit more at the elemental composition of the taste, as well as the energetics and actions of the beloved walnut. Walnuts, or in Sanskrit akshota, are sweet/hot/sweet. They possess a sweet taste, heating energetic effect and a sweet post-digestive effect.

Taste, the first hit you get when you place something on your tongue. In Ayurveda, the six tastes are sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. Like the doshas, tastes are also a combination of the five elements- Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. This will have a short-term effect on the dosha with the similar elemental makeup. For example, the sweet taste is made up of Earth + Water, as mentioned above, these are also the exact same elements that make up Kapha dosha. Therefore, a scoop of Speculoos is basically like ingesting a spoonful of kapha, could be good, could be bad, depending on what your body needs in that moment. Remember any substance can be your medicine or your poison.

Once you have ingested the walnut, explored its sweet taste, the next thing to look at is the direct energetic effect the walnut has on digestion. Heating or cooling. Sometimes you can taste a food and know exactly if it will heat or cool the body, however sometimes it is a mystery only to be discovered during the wee hours of the night (the stomach hours are between 10PM and Midnight, fun thing to note if you wake up suddenly with a hot, agitated belly). By their very nature nuts are intended to be stored and consumed during the winter, when fat supplies are meager and squirrels need them to survive. Nature, in its infinite wisdom, created a little power house of fat and heat to help insulate and sustain critters through the harsh winter months. The heating energetic effect aids in the digestive function, and can make things process quicker due to its more potent nature whereas cooling tends to cool off the digestive system, great for the summer time when the temperature soars or you just consumed too many jalapeno poppers, ole!

Finally, the last journey of this walnut is the long-term effect it has on our metabolism, post digestion and assimilation. There are three options here, sweet, sour or pungent. Sweet is building and nourishing while sour boosts digestive fire and pungent helps with elimination. As you may have guessed (or remembered from up above), walnuts have a sweet post-digestive effect. This makes sense when we think of a chipmunk munching on a stored nut mid-winter. Would Chippy want a foodstuff that is going to make him hangry or have to hit the commode every other stump? No, he wants bulk and comfort like an Irish knit sweater (debatably comfortable).
 
Bottom line, walnuts are a fabulous food that nature intended for us to eat during the winter months. Here is some extra information for you food nerds. Walnuts are not only nutritive but are an aphrodisiac and nervine (meaning they help if you get “nervous on airplanes”). Like walnuts, figs are also a sweet building food that offers a variety of nutrients. They are an excellent blood builder, containing a significant amount of iron as well as 187 mg of potassium, which is required to keep the muscles healthy and prevent strokes. Alas, I would be remiss not to mention those charming little seeds that provide fiber and flossing fun. Finally, rosemary will help boost the sprits with its aromatic rhapsody. Rosemary is thought to help harmonize and strengthen the heart as well as the emotions, perfect for this slushy, grey time of year.

Happy New Year, year of the monkey, so excited!

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