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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Stealing from Squirrels: Harvesting Black Walnuts

Today's harvest
We moved into a house on a one-acre plot of land and were lucky enough to inherit five full-grown black walnut trees. Our first  year here, we didn't realize our fortune and probably just complained about the slipperiness over which we had to mow in the fall. I remember almost falling with the lawn mower more than once! The next summer, our longtime friend Jack pointed out that we had ourselves some monstrous black walnut trees. Our inner hunter-gather selves sparked with curiosity. We had to wait for the following fall, as black walnut trees produce a ton of fruit every other year. So, wait we did. The following year, we picked a few buckets and let them sit on the porch. Carried away with other gardening endeavors, work, and being social, we ended up providing squirrels with some easy dining that winter, but didn't try any ourselves.

Today, we finally, finally made the Gatherer part of our psyche deliriously giddy! We spent the day collecting, hulling, and washing black walnuts. I started off with a pair of gardening gloves - not a good idea.
Tomorrow, my students will be wondering if I have touched a horcrux like the late Dumbledore. I guess the dye doesn't come off of your skin for quite some time, so instead of toting a "green thumb", I'll be showing off my brown one. Luckily, I discovered the black walnut juices were seeping through early enough in the process that it is not as bad as it could be. I replaced them with yellow, plastic cleaning gloves after about 5 of the walnuts.

We learned a few tidbits during our research today:
1. You don't have to wait until black walnuts are black to harvest them. In fact, pick them when they're green. They're much less likely to be filled with little white maggoty-looking worms.
2. You don't have to stuff them into a bag and then back over them with your car. In fact, several walnut experts report that doing that equals danger. Walnut pieces could bust off, break windows, hit animals, and so on. No good. Through trial and error, we found the best way to hull them is to stomp on them with the heel of your shoe, and then peel the green husk off. The stomping sped up the process quite a bit.
The pretty peach inside quickly turns black once the air hits.

3. You have to rinse them off - but they won't come completely clean. Get what you can off without completely stressing yourself out.

4. The walnuts have to cure for about 2 weeks before you can take the nut shells off.
5. The black walnut juice/dye is toxic to dogs and VERY toxic to horses. Keep your canine friends on a short leash or in the house when doing the dirty work.
Franklin expressing his non-gratitude re. the short leash

So, for now, we're waiting...we might harvest some more in the meantime. I never realized how many "walnut" foods I loved until I began this whole walnut fiasco this morning. I'm anxiously awaiting making homemade walnut burgers. Andy can't wait to make chocolate chip walnut cookies. And tonight I read about black walnut ice cream.

Brown fingers and all, I think I am foreseeing myself back out in the yard tomorrow, picking some more. Poor squirrels. I almost feel guilty. I guess I'll leave them all of the cracked ones. That should be good enough, right?

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