Last year I bought a 20-pound sac of walnuts from Don Butow, a local farmer, for $12.50 and cracked and ate them for snacks until July of this year. I cracked one open when I wanted cookies. I cracked and ate them when I craved chips. I ate them in the morning with my breakfast cereal and sometimes at night with stir-fry veggies. I brought the last of them with me to John Barr’s sixtieth birthday party in August.
I went back for more in October and discovered the walnut harvest was two-weeks late this year. The farmer showed me two varieties of trees and described their strengths and weaknesses. When I asked if he planted them, Butow told me they were growing and producing nuts when he moved there as a boy in ’47. Mayrick, the sweeter variety didn’t do as well in the late-spring rains, but the other, Franquette, a variety that flowers later, flourished. He also found out that it did better in the early-fall rains because the seam stays closed even when wet.
These nuts, sometimes known as English or Persian Walnuts grow on trees that can be up to 90-feet tall. Juglans regia is indigenous to western and central Asia, and southeastern Europe. People everywhere cultivate walnuts from China, to Pakistan, to Mexico, and the USA. The green fruit, or husk, has pulp surrounding the hard brown shell. The seam along the perimeter splits when the shell is cracked to expose the seeds that look like two halves of a brain.
If your town is graced with old English walnut trees, but everyone says they are too bitter to eat, and the sidewalks are littered with smashed nuts, gleaners don’t despair! I found a useful insight from Carol Deppe’s The Resilient Gardener. Gather walnuts as soon as they fall. The bitterness comes from the rotting husk that has turned brown. In dry regions the husk often slips off easily, but in rainy areas the husk decomposes in place, leaching tannins into the nut. Another tip to remember, green nuts taste better after curing or aging. Remove the husk and air dry the nuts in a sheltered spot for two weeks before eating.
What wealth to have local nuts! Plant them and you create a legacy for the future.