I’ve been involved with the Fruit Tree Project the past two years. This awesome endeavour connects local fruit tree owners, volunteer pickers and community groups, such as the Food Bank, who share the bounty and reduce conflict with bears. I have enjoyed learning how to make crabapple juice and jelly, as well as eating delicious apples, pears, grapes and plums, so when the email came in looking for volunteers to pick black walnuts, I was in!
My dear old Mom’s version of swearing is “gosh dangit” or “darg narbit” or “aw nuts”. With the first two, one can imagine the true meaning, but I never understood how a delicious nut could be used as a cuss word. Until now.
Harvesting the nuts was quick and easy; you just pick up the nuts from the ground under the tree – who knew? In no time, the 5 of us had collected 90 lbs! I was very excited with my share, a large bucketful, and imagined impressing my family at Christmas with something not tomato-based. (I grow too many tomatoes!)
Hulling the walnuts was also easy. I had been warned to wear gloves as walnuts stain but because the fruit was soft, removing the outer husks was quick work. Inside, a black glistening prune-like thing remained, hence the name “black” walnut. The black slime wasn’t easy to remove, so I went looking on YouTube and found a delightful video hosted by Farmer Drawl and his Long-Sufferin’ Wife from the Heartland (not really, but you get the idea). Drawl’s technique of husking the walnuts was a sledge hammer so I wasn’t convinced of his methods, but I kept watching. Once hulled, he “power-warshed” the walnuts in a large bin, “but that ain’t the end of the story”. He then put them into a smaller bucket, used a shovel to agitate them, changed the water, repeated this 4 times, and then and only then did they turn up looking like walnuts. Ha, I thought. I have a power-washer and a much smaller amount, so no problem.
The darg narbit power-washer did a bit but Drawl was right; it didn’t finish the job. For the next two hours I tried methods like individual hand-scrubbing (that didn’t last very long), the shovel/bucket/agitate trick (didn’t work) and finally, the hand-pluck/fingernail scrape/rinse and rinse again/put in a large plastic mesh potato bag and roll it around on the grass on your hands and knees trick. I ended up soaking wet with black fingernails, but the result was a basket of things that finally resembled walnuts. Next week’s carrot cake will be worth it, I thought. Then Drawl says, “store ‘em for at least 6-7 weeks, then use a hammer to open ‘em up to git at the fruit”. Aw nuts.
Fast forward to the week before Christmas and the big bag of walnuts sat ready to be divided amongst my siblings. Of course I kept a share for myself, and pulled out the nutcracker. I tried and tried and ended up with a broken nutcracker and a strained wrist, but no open walnuts. If I had this much trouble, I figured I would have to shell the nuts before I gifted them. Back to YouTube. Turns out black walnuts are notoriously difficult to open. Many different ideas were presented: microwave ‘em, roast ‘em, soak ‘em. Nope. Lightly tap the pointy end with a hammer. Nope. Nothing and I mean nothing opened the gosh-derned things. Then I remembered Farmer Drawl and pulled out the sledgehammer. I put half the nuts into the same mesh potato bag I’d used to clean them and smashed away on the concrete floor of the cold garage. I then spent the next hour picking pieces of fruit (the ones that weren’t dust) from the walnut shell shards, until I lost patience.
End result: one lousy cup of small walnut pieces.
Yes, they were sweet and tasty, but after all those hours of effort?! I threw the rest of the unshelled nuts into the woods for the squirrels and birds. Family got tomato sauce for Christmas. Aw nuts!!
~ by Nancy Lee