Planting Our Baby Walnut Trees.
The McNamee family had a few walnut trees planted on the roadside near the home farm, so Grandma always had plenty of nuts to spare.
Long ago, when we popped our transportable house onto its current site, we created a perfect orchard space just over the fence. But while I was still procrastinating over the best fruit trees to choose, Terry decided to plant walnuts instead.
So one afternoon we packed up spades, containers and our four kids and trundled off to Grandma’s. There were plenty of sturdy little saplings growing under the old trees. We dug up a dozen and planted them over the fence.
Hindsight’s a wonderful thing. I wish I knew then what I know now. Back then, I thought all walnuts were the same. Now, I know there are Black walnuts and English walnuts. The difference is important.
Black Walnuts are small and the shells are thick and hard to crack. It’s almost impossible to extract the whole walnut from these tough nuts. These walnuts are mostly used to supply beautiful hardwood for furniture.
We have many Black Walnut trees in our grove.
English Walnuts are larger and sweeter than their Black Walnut cousins. These are the eating nuts.
We have only a few of these – and how I wish we had more.
They’re easy to open and far more versatile to cook with, so these are mainly the nuts that I collect. The black walnuts we leave for other creatures to eat.
Race For The Walnuts
Northern hemisphere nut-gatherers often have to race with the squirrels to collect their nuts. We don’t have squirrels in New Zealand but there are plenty of other animals who think that walnuts are a tasty treat.
Possums love to crunch them up and we often spot them up in the walnut trees at night. Rats love them too, and the birds will peck holes in the softer shells to eat the nuts inside.
Even the dogs sometimes crunch on a hard green outer fruit, only to spit them out in disgust when they reach the nut inside.
Harvesting Walnuts From The Trees
April (which is Autumn in the Southern Hemisphere) is when our nuts usually ripen and fall from the trees. Sometimes, we feel like we are gazing at those stubbornly attached nuts for days and days. But when the strong nor’wester wind begins to blow, suddenly they all fall overnight. Next morning, the ground under the walnut trees will be covered in nuts.
The first essential of walnut harvesting is having a good pair of gloves. Freshly harvested nuts will stain your hands an interesting shade of greeny-brown which can take days to wear off.
On the trees, a thick, green rind encases the walnuts. When they’re ripe, this rind will often split open and let the inner nut fall cleanly to the ground.
Sometimes, however, the whole thing falls intact. Then you have to crack open the rind and pull out the damp-shelled nut inside. That’s when your hands are most in danger of walnut stains.
Next, You Need To Dry The Nuts
At this stage, the inner nutmeat is pale, soft and insipid. So we dry the nuts in their shells for a few days. That allows them to develop that familiar walnut flavour and crunch.
You can’t always tell from the outside how good the inside nutmeat will be. Sometimes we’ll open a perfect-seeming case and find a shrivelled specimen inside. Two years ago we had a terrible season, where every second walnut had rotted away inside. At least, that’s how it seemed to me when I was shelling them.
3 Ways To Store Walnuts
- Unshelled nuts will stay fresh for years in cool, dry conditions.
- Keep them in large bins, ready to scoop out as you need them.
😊 if you have plenty of storage space in a shed, garage or carport.
😦 if you’re time-poor and just want shelled nuts NOW!
- Get into production mode and spend a few nights watching TV and shelling all your nuts..
- Pop them into repurposed plastic bags e.g. bread bags or resealable frozen veggie or cereal bags.
- Freeze the bags. They stack easily and the nuts won’t stick together.
😊 if you have a large freezer.
😦 if you have a tiny freezer or don’t watch TV.
😊 if you’re into vacuum sealing and have shelf space in your pantry.
😦 are you ultimately adding unnecessary plastic waste into the world?
I’ve Got My Walnuts — What Next?
In health circles walnuts are now described as a superfood. They’re easy to eat by themselves but delicious in cooking too.