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updated: 3/20/2012 3:39 PM

Time is right to go nuts for nuts

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  • Retro packaging

      Retro packaging
    Courtesy of Fisher Nuts

  • Kuhn Rikon Strawberry Knife Colori

      Kuhn Rikon Strawberry Knife Colori

 
 

Happy 90th birthday Fisher Nuts.

Yes, you read that right. The four-generation, family-run John B. Sanfilippo & Son, Inc., based in Elgin, marks 90 years in business this year.

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JBSS grew from a small factory in Chicago where pecans were cracked and shelled by hand to become one of the premier processors, marketers and distributors of baking nuts, snack nuts and nut-based products with sales that exceed $674 million. That's no small peanuts!

When the company started in 1922, each worker shelled an average of 8 to 9 pounds of pecans each day. Automation in the mid-1940s saw shelling increase to 150,000 pounds per year, and today the company processes more than 200 million pounds of various nuts annually.

Peanuts have replaced pecans as the top nut, though they're technically legumes but I won't belabor that point.

Here are some other nutty facts, shared by the good folks with Fisher:

• Almonds seem to enjoy almost mystical attributes. In the Bible, Aaron's rod bloomed and bore almonds. The early Romans showered newlyweds with almonds as fertility charms. In many parts of the world, gifts of almonds are considered good luck and represent happiness.

• Native Americans in the south central U.S. and northern Mexico have eaten pecans for hundreds of years. The name comes from the Indian word paccan meaning "a nut with a shell so hard it must be cracked with a stone."

• The walnut is the oldest known tree food eaten by man. It originated in ancient Persia about 7,000 B.C.

Want to help Fisher celebrate? Sprinkle your favorite nut on top of a birthday cake or try any of the 54 recipes online at fishernuts.com. Don't forget about the company's outlet store at 1701 N. Randall Road in Elgin, (847) 214-4400, and the Fisher Hometown Nut Store, 906 S. Northwest Hwy., Barrington, (847) 382-4202.

Berry good news: Mild winter weather hasn't contained itself to Illinois. Warmer than usual winter temps in the Sunshine State mean a bumper crop of strawberries. So as we watch the price of peanut butter and beef climb, we should see berry prices trending down.

"We complained when it was too cold, and now we're complaining this year that it's too hot," Ted Campbell of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association told The Associated Press. "It's a very challenging year."

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a pound of strawberries on March 2 was selling at major grocery stores for an average of $2.15 -- an eight-cent drop from the previous week and a 28-cent drop from last year at the same time.

Florida is the nation's biggest strawberry producer in January and February, while California is the largest in the spring.

The other factor keeping the price of Florida berries low: Mexican imports.

The USDA reports that between Jan. 1 and March 8, Mexico shipped 190 million pounds of strawberries to the U.S. During the same time, Florida shipped 185 million pounds nationwide.

The Midwest berry season is still a ways off, and while I'm a big eat-local proponent, I'm also a strawberry lover and plan to eat my share of domestic berries until the plants in my yard start producing.

Berry good tool: A paring knife is all I use to trim and slice strawberries, but my son, Jerome (you can read his column in today's Suburban Parent), went crazy for the Kuhn Rikon Strawberry Knife Colori.

This handy little gadget opens like a pocket knife (hence the instant appeal!) to reveal a scoop on one end that can be used to remove the leaves and pale inner calyx. The other end contains a small high-carbon Japanese steel blade that folds out for slicing.

Don't let its cutesy appearance fool you into thinking this is a toy ... this knife is razor sharp so handle with care.

The Strawberry Knife Colori costs $12; look for it at Sur la Table or online kitchen retailers.

• Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at food@dailyherald.com or (847) 427-4524. Be her friend at Facebook.com/debpankey.dailyherald or follow her on Twitter @PankeysPlate.

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