Friday, March 1, 2013

The Harvesting of Walnuts - March 1, 2013

One of the benefits of living in the eastern half of Kentucky is walnuts!  There are three varieties of walnuts - English, Black and White.  When you buy walnuts in the grocery, you are getting the English walnut.  It has a smooth shell that is easy to crack and the nuts come out in halves that are great for recipes where this is important.  But, the variety that grows in the parks around my house and on our property in Pendleton County is the black walnut.  It has a shell with sharp wrinkles that is really hard to crack so the pieces come out in small bits.  The benefits though are that they are free all around us (just like Pecans where I grew up in Alabama) and they have a stronger walnut flavor than the English walnut.  I would say more about the white walnut if I'd ever seen one.  According to my research they also grew in this part of the country but are now an endangered species!  What a shame.

It is important to note here that this shell is not what you'll see when the nuts are on the tree.  The shell is actually surrounded by a smooth green soft outer shell or hull.  When the nuts begin to drop (around September in my area), this green hull begins to rot off as the weather changes from warm to cool and back again and the rain washes it away.  If you have an asphalt driveway, I hear the easiest way to remove the outer shell is to drop them on your driveway and drive over them for a couple weeks.  I just watch the harvest and in November start picking up bags of the ones where the outer hull has turned black and started to come off on it's own.  I used to take these home and scrub them, but now I just remove as much of the outer husk as I can and dump them in a big metal wash pan in the basement to dry out.  I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THAT YOU USE GLOVES WHEN REMOVING THE OUTER HULL.  THIS IS HOW THEY MAKE WALNUT DYE AND IT WILL DYE YOUR FINGERS DARK BROWN FOR ABOUT A WEEK OR MORE.

I usually let the nuts sit until after Thanksgiving when I'm ready to start making Christmas cookies and other goodies using walnuts.  If you crack them too early, the nuts are mushy and you will need to put them in a warm oven to dry out.  If you crack them too late, the shells get really hard and your job is tougher.  The key, however, is a walnut cracker.  The picture above is mine.  It cost about $50 and has to be bolted to a wall or table.  It isn't worth the money or trouble if you only plan to try this once, but if you plan to harvest walnuts annually.  It's the only way to do it.  I also recommend you have one work glove for this project.  When you crack the nut, the shell and nut meat fly in all directions.  To address this, I cover the nut with my glove when cracking and dump the whole handful in a bowl.  After you fill the bowl, you can pick through the pile to get the meats.

If you just want to try harvesting your walnuts once before you invest in a cracker, I recommend putting the nuts in a canvas bag and then hitting with a hammer.  You have to hit really hard because these shells are hard!

Once you've picked out the nut meats, they freeze quite well in zip lock bags until you are ready to use.  We use ours most often in salads with dried cranberries and blue cheese.  They are also great in stir fry with asparagus and noodles and you can make a walnut pie just like a pecan pie but substituting walnuts.  My favorite use, though, is Canadian Biscuits (cookies).  See the recipe below:

Canadian Biscuits

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. shortening'
3/4 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 c. flour (white, wheat or both)
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 c. dried fruit and/or chocolate chips
2 c. quick oats
1 c. chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cream butter, shortening and sugars.  Add eggs.  Add other ingredients one at a time in order.  Drop by teaspoon on greased or lined baking sheets and bake 8-10 minutes.  Makes 3-4 dozen.

If you really want to celebrate the taste of walnut, try this favorite of my husband's family:

Walnut Cake

1/2 c. butter
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. milk
2 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. chopped walnuts

Cream butter and sugar.  Add beaten eggs.  Add flour and powder, sifted.  Slowly add milk.  Add vanilla.  Add walnuts.  Cook at 350 degrees until done.  Serve with cream cheese icing and walnuts sprinkled on top.

One year ago - Homemade Limoncello

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