The first year my brother enrolled at the University of California, Davis campus my dad treated our family to dinner at the Nut Tree Restaurant, Vacaville. It was a magically wonderful experience… including the small gauge train that circled the property, and the general aviation airport (that later in life I used to fly in for a weekend brunch). Over the years the Nut Tree became one of my favorite places to stop when visiting Davis and later when driving along the heavily traveled corridor of Interstate 80 between San Francisco and Sacramento.
The Nut Tree Restaurant was an early pioneer of, what is now known as, California Cuisine, with fresh fruits and vegetables featured in their recipes. By 1978, the Nut Tree was identified as "the region's most characteristic and influential restaurant." A notable feature of the restaurant was its large indoor aviary that had glass walls extending from floor to ceiling. Nut Tree knives and cutting boards, as well as books on aviation, were sold in the gift shop.
The restaurant attracted many notable visitors including Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Danny Kaye, Shirley Temple Black, Chuck Yeager, Peter Marino, and Bing Crosby, among others. In 1983, the Nut Tree catered a luncheon hosted by (California) Governor George Deukmejian for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip at the State capitol.
Don Birrell was design director for the Nut Tree from 1953 until 1990. The Nut Tree's outdoor patio area was designed to loosely resemble Tivoli Gardens, in Copenhagen with unique its lighting and kiosks, and every plate was a food stylist’s dream.
The Nut Tree had a number of wonderful signature menu items… Whole Pineapple With Marshmallow Sauce, Seasonable Fruit & Sorbet Fruit Salad, Chicken Almond, Fried Shrimp, Freshly Baked White and Wheat Mini Loafs and, most memorable, Orange Nut Bread.
Because of changing times, rising property values and family squabbles the restaurant closed in in 1996. Fortunately, I managed to save one of the best recipes—The Nut Tree Orange Nut Bread.
Prep time: 40 minutes
Bake time: 45 to 60 minutes
Yield: 1 large loaf or 2 mini loafs
For the orange rind prep
1 cup, orange rind, ground (from about 2-3 medium oranges)
1/2 cup water
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
For the cake batter
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, oil or melted shortening
2 large eggs, unbeaten
1 teaspoon orange extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped, roasted
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoon raw sugar
To prepare the orange rind
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