Walnuts are an old school nut. They're the nut that's in the reminiscent-of-grandma flavors from See’s candy that everyone leaves in the box. They're the nut that's hidden in the shadows while their cool cousins (the almond and pistachio) have been basking in the limelight in recent days.
Johnni Soghomonian is the matriarch of Three Sisters Farms in Fresno, where she and her husband have been farming for 35 years. They primarily grow grapes, but those of us lucky enough to find her at the Vineyard Farmer’s Market have access to their almonds, raisins, and truly exceptional walnuts. After being dried in the sun for a bit, each nut is hand hulled, and if necessary, a little paintbrush is used to get off any fine dust. Nuts like these deserve the star treatment!
» Where to buy: Vineyard Farmers Market - 3:00-6:00 p.m. on Wednesdays, 7:00 a.m. - Noon on Saturdays
Combine the water, sugar, cream of tartar and corn syrup in a medium-size heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil the mixture until it reaches 340°F on a candy thermometer and is deep golden brown in color. Remove from the heat and, working quickly, stir in the cinnamon and butter with a wooden spoon. Then add baking soda, nuts, and orange rind.
Pour the mixture onto a silpat-lined cookie sheet that has sides, and spread it out a bit with the back of a wooden spoon to about 1/4-inch thickness (it may not fill the whole pan). Work quickly.
Let harden, uncovered, in a cool place, for 30 to 45 minutes (avoid the temptation to sample during this time--it gets better).
Using your hands--and, if desired to keep off any fingerprints, wearing cotton or plastic gloves--break the brittle into pieces. Store in an airtight container.
Note: we also experimented with an exceptional banana-walnut brittle! Just substitute the candied orange for 1/3 cup banana chips. If you really want to gild the lily, drizzle your finished product with a little dark chocolate.