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Ode to a nut

GAYS MILLS - I believe that 2017 has been a good garden year—and it’s still going on. The average first frost date in this neck of the woods is between October 1st and the 10th. Frost hasn’t happened yet, so we are either above average or below average depending on your outlook.  Anyway, enjoy this long fall; winter will be here soon enough.

My best crop this year is one that I didn’t plant, weed, fertilize, prune, tie up, spray, water or worry about pests or varmints. I speak here about black walnuts. It has been a bumper year for black walnuts and you may want to get out and get some while the getting’s good. There are plenty to go around. You can become a wild food gatherer and live off the land, at least partially, very easily by simply going out and picking up the plentiful, fallen black walnuts.

Southern Wisconsin is about as far north as black walnut trees grow. Most of their normal range is to our south and it spreads both west and east. Black walnut is highly prized for the quality hardwood lumber it produces. That’s long term.  In the short term, there are the dividends of the self-harvesting nuts. The more you learn about black walnuts, the more you are likely to appreciate this special tree and the wonderful nuts they produce.

First of all, black walnuts are natural, organic, and local. And they are readily available whether you actually have walnut trees or not.  People with walnut trees in their yard are usually glad to get rid of them. They can be found and gathered in parks, public lands, and along roadways. You don’t need to get into brushy areas or too far into the weeds to collect a good supply of this seasonal bounty from nature.

Black walnuts are a marvelously nutritious food. Believe it or not, walnuts contain 21% protein, pound for pound more protein than beef, pork, or lamb. They are high in unsaturated fat and an excellent source of much touted omega-3 essential fatty acids.  

Black walnut$ are valuable. On line, one place sells them for $6.99 a pound in the shell and $13.99 shelled. There’s a lot of dollars worth of walnuts out there. There is some effort involved in processing this natural bounty (more about that next week) but it can be very satisfying to take advantage of this self-harvesting, seasonal gift. The process starts now, with gathering the nuts before the squirrels find them all. The opportunity to gather nuts is knocking on the door and the window of time to collect is open but doesn’t stay open forever if you’ll pardon the corny metaphors. But if you rise to the occasion and stoop to conquer some walnuts, you may want to wear a helmet out there, there may be some walnuts that are still harvesting themselves.

Here’s the way I like to gather the nuts: Wait until the thick, lime green walnut husks have begun to split open and turn dark.  They darken quite quickly, helped along by the walnut borer larva that attack the husks immediately. Don’t worry, those borers don’t get into the nut itself so they’re on your side, helping to loosen the husk. I wear rubber flood boots for this phase, step on the nut and push it forward a bit which almost frees the nut from the husk.  Then I shuck the husk from the nut and put it in a bucket.  Be sure to wear rubber gloves for this or your hands will be stained for days or weeks to come.

That’s all I can squeeze in for now.  More on walnuts next we….