Walnut Trail Mix

A winter harvest crop and annual holiday treat in Europe, the walnut is gaining popularity in the hearts of Americans — literally! Particularly in studies on the cardiovascular health of men, the gamma-tocopherol form of vitamin E found in walnuts has been found to provide significant protection from heart problems.

While there are numerous species of walnuts, the English walnut is the most commonly consumed in the United States. Cultivated for thousands of years, English walnuts (Juglans regia) actually originate in India and the regions surrounding the Caspian Sea. Black walnuts (Juglans nigra) are native to North America, particularly the Appalachians and Central Mississippi Valley. These gems of the tree nut harvest are prized for their more fruity flavor and lack of the bitter taste their cousins possess, but are rarely found in your local grocery — they are simply too hard to harvest and market large scale. Devoted enthusiasts harvest their own from their local neighborhood trees, or visit farmers' markets.

Ninety percent of the United States' walnut market is grown in California, but come the end of the year, most local winter farmers' markets offer locally grown tree nuts as part of their wares. Check your local market today, and bring home a healthy and delicious treat!

Walnut Trail Mix

2 cups each of pistachio nuts, hazelnuts, and salted almonds

2 cups each of the following dried fruits: golden raisins, dark raisins, dried cherries, and dried cranberries

2 cups pecans

2 cups walnuts

3 egg whites (divided)

1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

Toast the pistachios, hazelnuts, and salted almonds in a 375 degree oven for 8 to 12 minutes. Set aside to cool.

To make the spiced pecans, whisk 1 egg white until frothy, then add 1 tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice and 2 tablespoons of sugar.

When the egg white spice is evenly mixed, fold the 2 cups of pecans into the egg whites. Place the nuts onto a parchment-lined sheet tray and bake at 375 degrees for 8-12 minutes. The egg whites should start to dry out onto the nuts. Remove and set aside to cool.

To make the candied walnuts, whisk the remaining 2 egg whites until frothy; then fold in 1 cup of sugar and mix well. Add the 2 cups of walnuts, stir briefly to coat, and place the nuts onto a parchment-lined sheet tray and bake at 375 degrees for 8-12 minutes. Remove and set aside until cool.

Toss nuts together with dried fruits and serve immediately, or place in airtight containers for up to one week.