Time-honored traditions such as baking family recipes, cracking nuts by the fire, and decorating with handmade crafts help make the holiday season merry. Some items, such as in-shell nuts, are naturally associated with the holidays and appear year after year during the season.

Over the last 96 years, the experts at leading nut brand Diamond of California have discovered many uses for in-shell nuts. Tina Salter, culinary producer and cookbook author, offers the following ideas for using this heritage product at the holidays.

Roasting: All nuts, even in their shell, taste better freshly toasted. Bake in-shell nuts at 375 F for 20 minutes (smaller nuts may toast faster). Crack one nut in a towel to check for doneness. The “meat” should be toasted and aromatic. If it still looks pale, roast a few minutes longer. Let the nuts cool before serving with a nutcracker and nut-like. Children and guests will delight in shelling them by the fire.

Entertaining: Finish a holiday dinner with an elegant course of port, soft blue cheese and freshly toasted in-shell walnuts. Serve with slices of a crusty baguette. Guests will linger at the table to crack nuts, sip port and tell stories.

Decorating: Nuts add a touch of nature to holiday decor. For a chic table, lay a garland around the base of a large glass hurricane vase. Place a pillar candle securely in the center and fill space between candle and glass with in-shell nuts to about one-third of the height of the candle. For added sparkle, paint some nuts gold and silver before filling.

Get creative at the holidays: A great idea that uses Diamond in-shell nuts could win you a trip to New York City for another memorable holiday tradition: “The Nutcracker” ballet. The person who submits the best idea for entertaining with Diamond in-shell nuts will win a trip for four to see a performance of New York City Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker.” The winning idea will also be published on millions of bags of nuts in 2009 and featured on Diamond’s Web site. For contest details, information on second- and third-place prizes and holiday recipes, visit www.diamondnuts.com. – Courtesy of NAPS.

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