Get Crackin’!

I said it before and I’ll say it again… the plantings around here want to produce food for us. Though everything was left for dead and we came in mid-summer thinking most of the trees would take a lot longer to bounce back, we have been pleasantly surprised at this year’s harvest. I am happy to report that many of the walnut trees are loaded and the fruit is just fine despite the weather, lack of care and pests. Wow! The hubby has been a dedicated walnut picker and let me tell you, he’s picked them by the bucket loads! About 50% are ready right now and that has him working steadily.

Along the property line is a tree that keeps on giving. Two buckets so far and it ain’t done yet. The hubby broke down and bought an orchard ladder fearing the smaller one would leave him stranded on a limb one day. After I got over the initial shock of how expensive it was, I realized that it’s either save money but get hurt, or spend money and be safe. But gee whiz, is all farm equipment so costly?

He spent about 7 hours in the first three days picking and shucking and collected 3 buckets in that time. Nice. The average price per pound for shelled nuts here in California is around $6.00, and to know that all we have to do is use a little bit of elbow grease to get walnuts without paying an arm and a leg is just exhilarating! I can’t tell you how happy we are to never have to walk into a grocery store for walnuts again.

We had a feeling that waiting for them to fall would be unwise because of the squirrel population. We have a lot to content with around here, but we’re trying to be a step ahead. And sure enough, the gray squirrels have made their presence known ever since he began harvesting, by coming around the house a lot more and springing from tree to tree right above our heads. As if they want us to know the nuts belong to them. I’m a fan of the squirrel – they work hard and deserve their stash – but don’t try to get all bossy about it. There is room for human nut lovers on this homestead too!

If you happen to have a walnut tree of your own, or know where a walnut tree is and want to harvest some, I can give you some pointers. And this is assuming you will be picking them like us, and not waiting until they fall. We looked for husks that range from very dark green to black. You’ll be able to tell what is ready and what isn’t… the husks will come off with ease. Use any tool that’s easy to handle to remove the husk. The hubby used this old butter knife he found (of all things) in the garage and that seems to work just fine. Tip: Wear thick gloves that you don’t care about. Walnuts stain and you’ll have blackened fingertips before you know it!

If there is a lot of green that needs to be scraped off the shell, then the nuts aren’t ripe enough and you should wait a few more weeks before harvesting. Once you fill your bucket, shuck every nut. You just can’t tell what is and what isn’t good to eat by looking at them from the outside. What’s that old saying? You can’t judge a book by its cover. In this case, you can’t judge a nut by its husk! 🙂

Once shucked, the shell may have a few stringy pieces that can be wiped off. We’ve been dealing with a pest called the walnut husk fly, and some of the husks have teeny worms underneath them. They never penetrate the shell and are harmless to the nut inside, but they create a black cavity in the husk that may blacken the shell and sometimes the nut too. Seeing the pest may be a bit creepy but time after time, you’ll see that the shell is just fine. There is a natural solution to repel the fly that I’m just learning about and I’ll post that info if we use it next year.

Next, the nuts have to be dried and we decided to leave them out in full sun (for about 3 days) which made them nice and dry. There are several ways to dry them, so check out all your options to see which works best for you. The idea is to make sure they are not put up with any bit of moisture because they can start to mold. They can be used at any time afterwards or stored in a cool, dry place. Me? Oh, I’ll be using them right away for sure. Can you say, walnut-pumpkin bars? Mmm mmm!

Is it just me or does a walnut look like a mini brain?