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Meet Neil Edley, Whose Gourmet Nuts Add Crunch to Any Occasion

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We choose products for the Food52 shop not only because we're obsessed with them (always) -- most of the time we're just as inspired by the creatives who make them. And we listen up when those makers share their own insight and tips for smarter living. 

Today: Mother-and-son duo Frann and Neil Edley of Edley Gourmet Nuts created six exclusive nut mixes for our Shop -- we like them on their own, with cocktails, and in recipes.

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The six nut varieties available in the shop; Spiced cocoa pecans

One summer day many years ago, a mother and son took to the kitchen with a hankering for something sweet. What started as a fun hobby turned into day after day of making desserts and eventually developing a small, mail-order, handcrafted chocolate business. Now, Sugar Plum Chocolates in Kingston, Pennsylvania, is celebrating its twentieth anniversary. “We’re celebrating 20 years of sweet,” Neil says over the phone, with a wink, I imagine. And what better way for Frann and Neil to celebrate two decades of success as a small shop candy business than to get back to their roots at their round kitchen table with a new idea: nuts. Savory and sweet gourmet nuts, to be exact -- all of which happen to be 100% vegan and Kosher. The Edleys worked with our Shop team to create six spiced nuts mixes of the sweet and savory varieties. Here, Neil tells us about his company, why he's nuts for nuts, and why his nut mixes are better than the rest.

What inspired you to start making nuts after making chocolates for so long?
Well, we saw a void in the industry: No one else was making fancy nuts or snacks that were vegan and all-natural, with no added fats. People needed something to cook with, cocktail with, nosh with...you get the idea.

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Crush spiced cocoa pecans and add them in and atop pancakes.

How did you come up with these flavor combinations?
We started playing with liquors and spices about a year and a half ago, and it seemed like people were totally addicted! We introduced the nuts at different farmers' markets, and people were really digging the flavors. They said they were putting them into pancakes and ice cream, grinding them to decorate a cake, and rimming cocktails with them -- so we knew they must be good.

What sets your nuts apart from other assortments out there?
We’re nuts about nuts! The original flavors we created and the crunch are unbeatable. Our nuts are hand-roasted for 40 minutes in small batches (under 50 pounds in one batch) here in our kitchen. They’re also totally vegan -- a lot of people add egg whites, but we don’t. There are no eggs or dairy anywhere in our kitchen. Dairy-free and egg-free, but not nut free! And our nuts are OU-certified, which means they are certified Kosher by the Orthodox Union. To top it off, we don’t use any fats, oils, or butters. All natural, ooh la la! Some do have gluten because of the beer, like the coffee stout cashews.

For what occasion do you imagine people using your nut assortments?
They’re for the person who has everything. They make the perfect housewarming gift. You can give them for birthdays, or just to say “I love you.” They’re for that cocktail person, the person who loves to have drinks and nuts, who loves to go to the Four Seasons and have that really great cocktail. Or they make a great gift for someone who loves to cook and is looking for a unique ingredient to add to a recipe or dinner party.

  
Sriracha peanut-crusted chicken; Sriracha peanuts

How would you suggest using the nuts in recipes?
Sriracha peanuts mixed with panko crumbs or corn flakes makes a zesty crust for chicken: Ground the nuts, mix with panko crumbs and egg, and use it to bread chicken. Or add the Sriracha peanuts to a noodle dish for more texture in a stir-fry.

The coffee stout cashews can be added to a salad with fresh pears and white balsamic vinaigrette. To kick it up a notch, add blue cheese, which offers a surprising yet delicious pairing with the coffee stout flavor.

Or for another idea, make a goat cheese ball coated in nuts: Roll chèvre into a ball, chop up the Chinese 5 spice cashews and dried apricots, and crust the cheese balls with the mixture.

  
Smokey whiskey almonds

You mentioned nuts with cocktails earlier…
Sriracha peanuts go great with Bloody Mary's. You could totally put a bowl of these out if you're serving bloodies, or they make a tasty, sweet-and-spicy rim. Just don't bite the glass!

Coconut curry peanuts are great with an olive rye martini or a dirty vermouth martini -- they add a smooth, subtle kick.

Chinese 5 spice cashews pair well with a Moscow Mule to give it a gingery sweet flavor. Or they even pair well with red wine to accentuate a silky and spicy sip.

Smokey whiskey almonds, of course, are great with a stout or a fine whiskey or bourbon.

Spiced cocoa pecans are a delectable complement to a coffee beverage or an after-dinner aperitif -- even a shot of ouzo or an Italian sambuca!

  
Coffee stout cashews, Neil's favorite.

Which nuts are your favorite and why?
I really love the coffee stout. The coffee and beer flavors are just so robust. It's like eating a cup of Joe with Guinness.

Do you have any good nut jokes or puns?
Well, we are nutty here in our nut house. Ummm...So, why can't you be friends with a squirrel? They drive everyone nuts!

Tags: nuts, liquor, spice, snack, cocktail