T his may look like a basket filled with burned tennis balls but the contents have nothing to do with courts, rackets or athletic shoes.
You're actually looking at one of the most delicious nuts on the planet in its raw, most natural form.
The recent winds from hurricane Sandy made collecting walnuts that much easier this year.
A slow walk around the base of this tree easily reveals its valuable and bountiful droppings.
As you can see, Black Walnuts grow encased in a thick protective skin or husk.
The thick outer husk of the Black walnut starts out a bright green on the tree but as the walnut starts to ripen the husk changes to a yellowish green.
High winds and hungry squirrels hasten their precipitous fall to the ground.
While the browning signifies a bit of husk decomposition, it's still not too late to harvest these for the goods inside.
These walnuts are quite plentiful on my family's Maryland farm. It's a farm which has been in the family now for five generations.
My great-grandparents planted many of the Black walnut trees that dot landscape across more than one-hundred acres of open space and natural beauty.
See that tree line in the distance? There are Black walnut trees in there and that's where my mom and I set out this past weekend to do some harvesting.
I don't get "home" as often as I'd like to but when I do, it's always a great visit.
Regular readers of this blog have already met my mom AKA Nana Banana who makes occasional appearances on my site when I'm able to talk her into it. Thanks Mom.
This day is all about finding Black walnuts and as you can see Nana Banana is quite dapper for the part.
1. Walking stick. This has multiple uses including providing extra support, knocking low-level walnuts to the ground, shooing away small animals or turning leaves to reveal obscured, fallen walnuts.
My brother, sister and I used to walk through these woods all the time with no problem when we were little.
However, these days much of this wooded area looks all too unfamiliar to my adult eyes.
3. Backpack. For walnuts, cell phone, water bottles. In Nana's case this bag also has a slot for her pistol which is carried for protection and as a precaution. Yes, Nana Banana is a pistol-packin' mama.
I asked my mom if she was OK with me mentioning that she packs heat and she said, "Fine" and then added, "Well, you never know what wild animal or something else may walk up on you in the woods and I'm not good at knife wielding or karate".
I heard that.
4. Waterproof boots. You definitely need a good pair thanks to mud, uneven terrain as well as briers and bramble bushes.
Doesn't she look great, and ready for just about anything that comes her way?
I personally couldn't tell a Black walnut tree from an old Oak, but my mom can spot one based on the design of the bark.
In addition to Black walnut trees, the history of the family farm has included at least one English walnut tree, cherry trees, chestnut trees, pear trees as well as fig and apple trees over the years.
When my great-grandparents and my grandmother worked this land, they grew what they needed.
OK, check out this Black walnut haul.
In the interest of full disclosure, my mom and I didn't pick all of these ourselves. Her cousin collected most of them from the base of the same tree I showed you at the beginning of this post.
Actually, mom and I ended up cutting our forest venture short after hearing gunshots (deer hunters) that seemed a little too close for comfort.
Let's break away the husk to expose the jewel buried inside.
You must wear gloves for this stage of the process.
I'll show you why further down in this post.
There is a lot of work that goes into getting to the actual nut.
So much husk for such a small but valuable nut.
It's worth it. You just have to keep peeling a little at a time.
OK, I had to throw another photo of Mom's fab hat in here.
Don't you just love this red suede topper?
I want one now too.
After scraping away the outer husk, this is what is revealed.
Another (hard) shell covered with stain.
That's real walnut stain and if Mom wasn't wearing good gloves that stain would be all over her hands and heck to remove.
The juice from a Black walnut is pretty potent dye and it's quite useful in the production of various colorings and inks as well as an ingredient for some recipes.
Here's a look at a handful of husk-free walnuts.
You'd have to remove this hard shell before eating the nut but believe it or not, the work is not done yet.
Harvesting Black Walnuts is work indeed.
After the shells have been hosed and wiped clean they have to cure for several weeks.
This allows the walnut flavor to fully develop.
The nuts must rest in shallow layers and have to be stored in a cool, dry area away from direct sunlight.
This curing phase lasts for about two or three weeks.
If Black walnuts are not cured properly, the nuts will get moldy and dusgusting.
However, if cured properly, you'll have pure gold (in nut form).
Even though these nuts have not cured yet, I wanted to give you a peek at the potential inside so Mom cracked one open.
Wow, look at that gorgeous nut meat. Another example of nature at its best.
When I was little, I remember sitting next to my grandmother (Nana's Banana's mom) as she picked the meat out of her pile of cured nuts.
The Black Walnut was at the heart of my grandmother's eagerly anticipated homemade fudge which she made every year around the holidays.
While nuts can appear on a Black Walnut tree in as early as 10 years, optimally it can take as long as 30-years for a Black walnut tree to really mature for the best nut production.
Mom says anyone who plants a Black walnut tree is really doing it for future generations to enjoy.
We're so lucky to still have our farm in the hands of family members and equally lucky to be the beneficiaries of those thoughtful Black Walnut tree plantings all those years ago.
So, that's my tale of the Black Walnut.
Are you now thinking about going on your own search for walnuts?
Well, at the very least, I've got you pondering Black Walnut fudge, right?
See you back here next week. ♥