“What the hell are those things?” you’re surely saying out loud right now. I don’t blame you. About a month ago I was saying that exact same thing because I didn’t know either.
Turns out we’ve got a black walnut tree at this here city residence of ours. Right about this time of year, said black walnut tree drops about 643 black walnuts into my tiny back yard. My hyperbolic guesstimative calculations figure that’s about 25 walnuts per square foot of green space.
Zak and I recently returned from a childless 10 day trip to Italy, and apparently while we were gone, this tree dropped all of it’s fruit. And I mean all of it. Every last nut. Into my yard.
It just so happened that while we were in southern Italy, we learned that walnuts are one of many crops you can find in Naples. Neapolitan’s typically harvest walnuts in the fall and enjoy them at holiday time and all winter long. “How appropriate…”, I thought. I mean, that’s how nuts are meant to be eaten, right? To have their caloric density taken advantage of during the cold months when fresh fruits and vegetables are less abundant.
Wait. You mean nuts were not created to be smeared into sandwiches or cups made of chocolate or candies that melt in your mouth and not in your hand?
Whatever. While I appreciate this nutty tidbit and the role nuts are meant to play in our evolutionary food chain, I will not be throwing out any jars of nut butter, sorry. I fully intend to load the de facto standard tablespoon (or two) of almond butter onto my oats tomorrow morning. I will be making my kids sunbutter and jelly sandwiches for lunch tomorrow per usual. I quite enjoy missing the point entirely, thanks.
Still, armed with my new appreciation for walnuts and how they have been gathered and harvested and eaten for thousands of years, only to then return home to a back yard full of walnuts, what comes next is painfully obvious. I was more than ready and even eager to harvest these spherical nuisances that I kept slipping on every time I walked through the back yard. In fact, I fully believe that these black walnuts have been out there plotting against me anyway. I know these sprained ankles waiting to happen were just biding their time. They’ve surely been chomping at the bit, waiting to take me down some morning when I might innocently run through the yard to dump the compost bucket. Poised and ready to point and laugh at me if and when I came crashing to the ground thanks to their firm roundness, spilling food scraps all over myself and them too.
Well walnuts, you’ve got another thing coming. You might look like a brain, but I’ve outsmarted you. Consider your plans officially foiled. Scheme against me, will ya? It’s like you were practically begging to be scooped up and loaded them into the wheelbarrow. Yeah black walnuts, revenge is sweet! And black walnut cake is even sweeter.
So I spent about 20 minutes or so last week picking up every last one of these tarsal landmines. I tried to get the kids to help, attempting to sell them on the idea that it would be just like an Easter Egg Hunt, but one look at those mushy brownish greenish “eggs” and suddenly they had better things to do. Well then! When I make my cake in a couple weeks I’ll be sure to tell you both the story of the Little Red Hen.
Poultry fairy tales, hypothetical trips to the ER and impending cake stinginess aside, I spent two hours today in an old shirt and rubber gloves going to town on these suckers. Harvesting black walnuts is a brand new venture for me in case this fact wasn’t already apparent. I’ve just recently come to understand that Step Numero Uno is getting the shelled nut out of its hull. The juices found in black walnut hulls will stain clothes and skin, so you have to wear gear that you might typically paint in, use to wash the pots and pans or dispose of murder evidence with. My accomplice of choice today was a hammer; a hammer I’ll now happily share cake with I might add.
An hour and a half later, I had myself an old wash tub full of a wet, slimy black walnuts.
Rinsed with the hose half a dozen times and then transferred into a 5 gallon bucket, they were ready for transport into the house.
Laid out upstairs on some old towels on the sun porch, here is where they’ll sit while they get their cure on – in a cool, dry, and quite happenin’ squirrel proof place.
What I’ve also learned since laying each and every one of these guys out is that they are supposed to be kept out of direct sunlight. This means I’ve got until about 10:00 AM tomorrow morning to slide this table about 3 feet north of where it sits right now.
Black walnuts have a rich, savory flavor and taste a bit different than the typical English walnuts you find in the grocery store. They harbor a plethora of health benefits much like regular walnuts; they are loaded with everyone’s favorite healthy fats omega 3′s and 6′s, a fair helping of protein, anti-oxidants and even some mean spirited plots.
The hulls and shells are not full of such great stuff for your compost pile though, so find some place else to rid yourself of your harvest scraps.
I’ve also come to understand that the shell of the nut doesn’t crack open quite as easily as English walnuts do, but I’ll bitch about that bridge when I come to it. Some websites also claim that the longer they sit out to dry, the easier the nut comes out. Apologies in advance, I’m afraid I’ve spent way too much time on this post now to come up with a good “nut comes out” joke. Maybe next time.
So we’ll see what happens with this little nutventure of mine. If you live close and offer to help me shell these wily walnuts, I just might offer to share a piece of black walnut cake with you. If not? I’ve got a great story about a red feathered chicken who makes bread all by herself to tell you.