The tradition of eating nuts at Christmas dates back to the 12th century when French nuns began leaving stockings full of fruit and nuts at the houses of those in need. They were inspired by the legend of Saint Nicholas who left gold coins in the stockings of three girls who had hung up the stockings to dry by the fire. Back then tangerines, apples and nuts were rare and expensive treats that most people couldn’t afford.
Today we still eat nuts at Christmas, although the big trend is for continental-style flavoured nuts rather than the more traditional nuts you shell with a nutcracker.
Ed Sowerby, who has developed the new nut varieties in this year’s Christmas range, says he was inspired to come up with our new Extra Special Cinnamon and Maple flavoured nut mix by visiting traditional German Christmas markets.
“Flavoured nuts are definitely a growing trend," said Ed. "Last year we had some smoked nuts which our customers loved, so we’ve brought back some of the most popular flavours for this year. However, we had the opportunity to introduce a few new flavours and experiment with sweeter flavours.
“Cinnamon just symbolises Christmas for me. I must have tried a maple and cinnamon combination on one of my visits to German Christmas markets because that’s what I immediately thought of. Early on in the development process I had a few nuts lying around at home so I thought I’d try to recreate the recipe. I roasted the nuts in the oven, poured maple syrup over them and roasted them again to caramelise them, then sprinkled them with cinnamon and toasted them. I took them into work the next day and shared them with the team and they were really impressed.
“The next step was to develop them with our nuts supplier Besana, which is a family-owned business in Naples. I flew out to Italy with the buyer and a couple of people from our logistics team IPL to see them.
“As we were driving to their factory we passed through fields of hazelnut trees – you don’t get much fresher than that!
“They have a development kitchen at their factory and as soon as I explained what I wanted they immediately made some maple and cinnamon nuts using the rotating copper roasting pans they have there, then spread them out on a big sheet to cool down. They were ready to try just a few hours later – and they were delicious!
“They’re in store now and the feedback has been great so far. It’s one of the few times I’ve actually done something in my own kitchen that has ended up on the shelves in store.
“Another flavour that’s gone down really well with customers is our coconut chocolate almonds – we’ve just had to order some more to meet demand. They were developed from scratch with the same supplier while we were in Italy. We already had a white chocolate snowball made with dessicated coconut and we thought we’d expand on that with a milk chocolate version with almonds – it tastes just like a Bounty!
“The cinnamon and maple flavour has to be my favourite, though, and will be top of my list this Christmas!”