bringing it back


In December, I bought nuts. I bought them for stocking filler, because somewhere I got the idea it was the sort of thing people do. When I saw them at the grocery store, all mixed and in their shells, I threw them in the cart. I got that little zing that I get when I do something I’ve never done before. Nuts in their shells. How novel! 

I also bought a cheap nutcracker at the hardware store, and I put that in Sadie’s stocking, too. And on Christmas morning, we had a lot of nuts on the floor. We cracked nuts. We ate some nuts. They were good. I didn’t think too hard about it.

But by the end of the night, I remembered that, in fact, my Grandmother had put nuts in my stocking when I was a kid. Not only that, but there was always a nut bowl on their coffee table. Always. It was made of some of that 70′s pottery they loved, and in the center of the bowl, ready to be used by anyone who had the desire, was a nutcracker exactly like the one I had bought at the hardware store for Sadie’s stocking. My grandparent’s nut bowl lived on top of a cedar chest they used as a coffee table, and, when I was cold, I’d take the bowl of nuts off the chest, open up the lid, and breathe in the smell of the chest. Out would come the scratchy orange wool blanket, which I’d tuck around my legs before lowering the lid of the chest, putting the nut bowl back on it, and cracking a few nuts.

I’d thought this whole nut bowl thing was my bright idea when really all along I was working from memory. So much for originality.

From Christmas on this year, we had the nut bowl, and every time someone would stop by, they’d remark on the nut bowl.

“My grandparents used to have a bowl of nuts on the coffee table!” they’d say. I’m serious. Everyone was happy to see the nut bowl, but most of all, the it was a favorite of the younger set. Kids who would have normally been antsy while their parents sat and had a beer with me and Joey sat contentedly by the fire, cracking nuts for hours. ”Why does no one have nuts on the coffee table any more?” their parents would ask.

My question exactly. Because there are so many good things about the nut bowl. It means there’s always something reasonably healthy and protein-filled on which to snack. It means there’s always something to do with your hands. It’s an activity, a treat, and a nervous habit all at once. It’s the new thing in snack food. It’s out and ready for guests- always. And the satisfaction when you crack the shell and dig out the glorious meat inside? Well, you’ll have go back in your own memory for that one. Grandparents? Coffee table? Ringing a bell?

Either way, I move we bring it back. Come on by! I just refilled the bowl.






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49 Responses to bringing it back

  1. Dave Nadig says:

    Man, I miss the nut bowl. Alas, with a nut allergy in the house, it’s not likely to return until my son heads off to college.

    • alana says:

      I’ve been thinking and thinking–there’s got to be some sort of nut-free equivalent that does all the wonderful things of a nut bowl. And now that orange season has really hit? I think an orange bowl might get close.

  2. Lorrie says:

    I LOVE this! For a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that, I just put a nut bowl–er, basket–on the kitchen table. I used to put nuts in my kids Christmas stockings until they started complaining. I remembered having them when I was small, as the start to Christmas breakfast. But this year, I had a GINORMOUS bowl of walnuts from the neighbor’s tree and hazelnuts from ours on our coffee table (also a cedar chest), so that my husband could crack them for me while he was watching football. All of my Christmas baking was done with those, and yesterday, I put the few that were left in a basket on the table for lingering over after dinner…perhaps along with a glass of Nocino. Yay for nutbowls…I’m with you!

  3. Emmy Cooks says:

    Hey, my grandparents had a nut bowl on the coffee table! Or sometimes on the side table by the lamp. :) I loved that! Thanks for bringing it to mind.

  4. Jannette says:

    My grandparents had a nut bowl. It was ceramic and shaped like a nut with a little squirrel on top of the lid. It is a treasured memory and happily my parents have it now. This year I happened upon a cute little squirrel shaped bowl. I didn’t hesitate to buy it and fill it with nuts. :)

  5. Jillian22 says:

    Yes! My grandparents had a nut bowl too. One of my earliest memories is my Opa, cracking walnuts with his big thumbs and a tiny metal nutcracker. I always thought they were gross, but I’d eat them if he gave one to me. Thanks for bringing back that memory!

  6. Mae says:

    You probably saw this, but in case you didn’t…:)

  7. Anna says:

    I don’t remember my grandparents having a nut bowl but I suspect that my dad’s mother must have (or maybe his grandparents) because he usually has a bowl of nuts and nut cracker on a side table in his kitchen. One of these days I’ll have to get a nutcracker.

  8. molly says:

    Oh, Alana, yes yes YES!!! This is the year we brought back the nut bowl, too!! I’ve tried, in years past, but haven’t found a nutcracker that little fingers could manage (we tried the one you show, but kept getting pinches). This year, we found this (sorry, don’t know how to embed links! here it is:, and were over the moon. The tiniest of hands can manage it. It works BEAUTIFULLY, and EASILY, every time. It fits nicely in our nut bowl. And, total bonus, it’s lovely to look at.

    But the nuts themselves are the thing, indeed, and I think you sum it up better than I ever could. Protein-filled snack, pastime, activity, nervous habit — everything, all in one lovely package.

    Hooray for nuts in their shells, I say. Long live such resurrected tidbits.

    Happy New Year to you, my friend.


  9. Anna Farneski says:

    A great idea! We always had them during the holidays, along with chestnuts. Going to get some this week. Have the perfect bowl, too. Have been putting chestnuts in a small cast iron frying pan and sliding it onto the floor of the fireplace, takes about an hour for them to open up….really nice and cozy to do when company is over.

  10. Shelly says:

    So funny about “the nut bowl” scenario. I’ve been married for 31 years. 31 years ago on our first Christmas together, my husband looked at me like I was a freak-of-nature and said, “Where’s the nut bowl?! EVERYone has a bowl of nuts sitting out…my mother ALWAYS has a nut bowl!” Some of the years since, I have listened…other years, not…. and boy did I hear it when I banished the cheap, metal nutcracker to a box in the basement!!

  11. Steph says:

    I love this idea! I’m wondering what kind of nuts you’ve found still in their shells? I think, along with the nutbowl, nuts in their shells have fallen by the wayside too. The first thing that comes to mind are walnuts, but my wife is allergic. Any other suggestions?

    • alana says:

      It’s true, Steph- although they’re everywhere right at the holiday, they’re not as easy to find afterwards. I’ve been seeing a lot of sales- stores trying to get rid of their holiday nuts, I guess- and I’ve been able to get bags of mixed nuts at the supermarket for next to nothing. Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and brazil nuts. Or if you have a friend with a nut tree in CA, you could always drop hints that you’d appreciate a care package!

  12. Oh, thank you so much for this! I don’t know how I ever forgot that a bowl of nuts on the coffee table was such a big part of my childhood!! (I remember almost everything!) It wasn’t only at my grandparent’s house, it was at our house too, coffee table in front of the fireplace, and I am wondering if it was mostly at holiday times or all year (and now I will obviously be spending so much time thinking about this wonderful thing, thank you again! Plus, I’m all about tradition…)
    And… you made me say hello now here for the first time. Hello. Happy beautiful new year to you! Renee :)

  13. jill says:

    I love this idea! When I was a kid my Dad would bring home a big bag of walnuts in the shell and we would crack and eat. Yes, lets bring this back. I ‘m going to get some nuts and pull out our nutcracker this weekend!

  14. Such grandparently nostalgia you’ve brought to me today. Thank you.

  15. Jennifer says:

    I was just talking to my husband the other day about my grandparents and how they always had bowls of nuts in the it house with plain metal nutcrackers laying next to them in case anyone was looking to snack on nuts. It really must have been generational…good for you for bringing it back!

  16. YES, bring back the nut bowl! I have done this occasionally when I saw nuts for sale, but now I’m going to seek the out. My kids are age 5 and 8, perfect for nut cracking.

  17. Sophie says:

    I also remember my Grandfather cracking nuts while he was sipping his gin at home or the cabin, way back in Quebec. A good memory you brought back today, thank you. It’s pretty awesome how little things like this are so familiar to so many people across the world. We’re all more alike than we think.

  18. Stephanie says:

    Funny, I’ve been talking about this for a few months! My kids are developing that “snack while watching TV” habit, and my husband’s a big offender. I grew up with a nut bowl on the coffee table where the TV was. Snacking on nuts you have to open takes time–no big handfuls–so you’re not consuming nearly as much.

  19. Jessica says:

    Yep, there was a nut bowl at my grandparents’ house too, on the coffee table in the living room. It was a smooth wooden bowl, which always had a mix of nuts in the shell in it, and at least one nutcracker. The drawer in that coffee table had decks of cards in it, with which we grandchildren would spend hours building houses of cards, some coasters (which I thought were for playing but I wasn’t sure how; I didn’t really understand coasters) and a few additional nutcrackers — in case we kids ever argued over the one in the bowl, or if someone actually wanted to crack and eat nuts while we played with all that stuff. I don’t remember spending too much time eating the nuts, though some days I spent ages picking every little bit of walnut out of the shell (don’t recall liking walnuts at the time, though I certainly do now). And at Chanukah and on Passover we played games with the nuts, though I never really knew the rules. I still don’t.

  20. Susan says:

    And there were these funny little metal pick like things for getting ALL the nut meat out!
    Nut-cracking was Montessori activity in my son’s classroom – I was THRILLED when I saw this nutcracker:
    for “little hands” because I have trouble with the metal ones too! (Montessori sites have all kinds of kitchen tools for little helpers…my favorite juicer came from them, too!)

    • alana says:

      Ah, our Montessori school is nut free- so no crackers there! But yes, our love of good little tools definitely comes from being a Montessori family through and through.

  21. alwayshungry says:

    On very special occasions pull out a jar of honey to dip those nuts in. Paradise.

  22. Ariel says:

    My MOM still does the nut bowl! (Must’ve got it from her patents.) it was out over the vacation this year, and my son was obsessed. I’m pretty sure before that he thought pistachios and pecans were the only nuts that came in shells.

  23. Rose says:

    My parents always put it out at Christmas too and it seemed very exotic (we were poor and nuts were pricey) and fun! Every time I see the nut display at the grocery store I’m reminded of childhood. Thanks for sharing, I need to go find a nut bowl!

  24. jacqiue says:

    Hahah,had someone say that at my house over the season!!”My grandma had a nut bowl,,,”i just bought so my boys would have something not sugar that would take some time to eat and maybe they would,nt eat me out of house and home.
    You should be crazy proud of Katzen comments!!

  25. Jenn says:

    So interesting! my grandparents had a pistachio jar, although I think they may have had other nuts around, too (I have a vague memory of walnuts in their shells). It was one of the highlights of visiting them! Now, my husband is such a nut fiend he’d empty out a bowl every hour, but maybe one day…

  26. Julie says:

    Emma JUST asked me why the nut bowl wasn’t out this year. How funny!

    Also, are you tossing those shells into the fire? Because they burn great!

  27. Lisa Cohen says:

    This totally a memory that had buried away and that I forgot that I had. Even though I’m Jewish, for Christmas my mom’s family would all gather at my Aunt Susie’s house, where she and Uncle Tony would cook this incredible Italian feast for the whole crew. And on the table in from to of the L-shaped sofa setup was…. a. bowl. of. nuts. This was one of my favorite things about the celebration. Sitting all night cracking walnuts and hanging out with my Uncle Rob, 11 years my senior. I had totally forgotten about this until now! Thank you so much for rekindling this wonderful childhood memory.

  28. kaela says:

    We always had a nut bowl around the holidays when I was a kid, with that same exact cheap-o nutcracker. You’re right, I do miss it: I might take your lead and bring back the nut bowl for winter!

  29. Betty G says:

    I was sooo happy to see this. We had nuts in our stockings too!! We also had the nut bowl, it however wasn’t a year round thing, but I loved it! This will be the new/old family tradition in our house!!!

  30. Marisa says:

    This story reminds me of those Take Time to be a Dad Today commercials (smallest moments can have the biggest impact). Every time one of our kids remembers something seemingly insignificant that we’d completely forgotten, my husband reminds me of this!

  31. Amy Stotzer says:

    We have almond trees, which means we have almonds coming out of our ears! I’m always trying to think of new recipes and things to do with them, and the nut bowl is great. :)

  32. Liz says:

    Ah yes, the nut bowl. I grew up with this tradition, as well as the stocking fillers. I actually kept it up during my twenties, but they became expensive where I lived, and then I had my second child who just happens to be allergic to every nut there is, as well as eggs, milk, and dogs. It’s a protein thing; minus the dog. lol. Anyway, maybe one day, when he isn’t so small and understands his allergy, we can welcome the occasional bowl of nuts back to our coffee table.

  33. Lisa McK says:

    Don’t you love things that make you say, “Hey! I thought I was the only one!” I started our nut bowl last year, in the same wooden bowl that did the honors when I was a kid. I filled just before our Winter Solstice party this past December. Four boys, one girl and 3 hours later, it was cleaned out.

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