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Take the ‘Kwuiz’ on black walnuts
JOHN GIBBS is a resident of Gays Mills, Wisconsin. He is an award-winning weekly columnist for the Crawford County Independent newspaper in Gays Mills, Wisconsin.

Time for a little Kickapoo Kwuiz. What woodland treats are easier to find than morel mushrooms, are just as tasty as the fabled spring fungus, are probably better for you, and can be found at this time of the year in abundance, and for free? If you answered black walnuts, you are correct. If you haven’t noticed, a crop of those black walnut ‘tennis balls’  has already started to litter the ground. Many people with walnut trees in their yard would welcome anyone who would pick them up to keep from mowing over them. In most cases, ask first of course, but wherever they are found, they are usually there for the taking.

And I will be  taking them. I’m not much of a hunter, but seem to have more of a gatherer bent. So you’ll see me out, bent over, gathering walnuts like an overgrown squirrel, getting ready for whatever the approaching Wisconsin winter will throw at us. It has been a few years since I’ve gathered and processed walnuts, but it all came back to me as I picked up the first bucketful of the season recently. It’s like riding a bike, you don’t forget how to do it and of course it’s a fairly simple task to begin with.

Like many people, I didn’t like to eat black walnuts for quite a while. They do have a strong taste, an acquired taste, and I must have acquired it somewhere along the way. Once you’ve worked at getting some walnuts put up, it seems to enhance their appeal and you appreciate them more. The fact is, black walnuts are very hard to come by in stores and they can qualify as a gourmet food.  Walnuts are a natural food and surely could be classified as organic, if that’s important to you. And talk about local, walnuts may be as local as your own or a neighbor’s yard or a city park. Walnuts are a healthy food, contain no cholesterol,  low saturated fats, high amounts of poly and monounsaturated fats (the good fats that help lower cholesterol)  and offer a decent dose of protein as well.   

A quick check on the internet shows a place where black walnuts can be purchased for $14.99 a pound. That sounds fairly pricey until you begin to figure the time spent gathering, hulling, cracking and picking the walnuts themselves. Not that I’m timing myself or planning on selling walnuts, but that $14.99 starts to look like a fair price after a while.  

Walnuts aren’t the kind of food that most people sit down and gobble by the handful–that strong taste again. But they are great in things, things like cookies and nut bread, in stuffed squash or in salads. I plan to take some walnuts and grind them up finely and add them to my daily ration of oatmeal.  It turns out that my small flock of chickens love black walnuts. For an occasional treat, I crack the nuts with a maul and the hens  pick the shells clean in no time.

 I hope to gather several five-gallon buckets of walnuts soon for the winter ahead. The work has just begun. The walnut window doesn’t stay open very long and the competition for walnut pickers is an army of bushy tail squirrels, who work at nut gathering every day.