We didn't have quite this many.
Ok. Maybe it wasn’t as much fun as the famous “Walnuts” episode of the old Dick Van Dyke show. But getting our own black walnuts (free, picked up off the street) out of the shell proved to be a plesant enough way to spend an hour or so on a warm Sunday afternoon.
Not that I didn’t try to find a way out of it. Ever since picking up the green balls from under our tree (and some others) a month ago, I’ve been putting off the inevitable day of shell cracking. Partly this is because I remember how messy and laborious it was to pound off the green pulp. And partly because I’m lazy.
But this weekend I ran out of excuses. The soccer games were over. The laundry was done. The day was nice. And those walnuts were taking up too much room with the squash and sweet potatoes on the basement table.
“You know, the reason I don’t do these walnuts is because I don’t have anything to carry them upstairs in,” I told Mike in one last, feeble attempt to procrastinate.
“Yes you do. I put a bucket over there for you the last time you said that,” he responded.
Sigh. On with the chore.
Black walnuts–which grow just about everywhere in the Midwest–have a reputation. Their shells are some of the toughest to crack. (In fact, the shells are so tough, they’re used as abrasives in industrial cleaning, oil drilling and as filler for dynamite. Check here for other walnut uses).
So I wasn’t looking forward to cracking those things, then digging out the nutmeats–even with the special walnut cracker my brother gave me for Christmas a decade ago.
But after getting everything out on the front porch, it turned out to be…not that bad. Tedious. But not that bad.
For one thing, the walnut cracker really works. It’s a contraption of heavy metal gears and a long lever arm fastened to a piece of wood. You put the nut in place and press the lever just far enough to crack the shell without pulverising the nut inside. In fact, cracking the shell is the fun part, because you can put your imagination to work . (Let’s see…This nut symbolizes…You get the idea.)
But alas, then you have to pick out the nutmeat. And this can be quite frustrating because some of those nuts have dried a little and have a brown outside about the same color as the shell. (Note to self: Next time don’t put this off so long.)
Mike took over when my hands got tired.
By the time we got tired of nut cracking, we had a nice little bag for the freezer and only a couple dozen more left over.
Was it worth it? Well, I love the flavor of black walnuts. They have so much more character than English walnuts. But they are expensive. Nuts Online, for instance, asks close to $14 a pound for black walnuts (a bit less if you buy in bulk).
To get my roughly $6 worth of nuts, I picked up about one tall kitchen garbage bag of green nuts from my yard and a few public places, donned an apron, old clothes and rubber gloves and whacked off the juicy, stainy green part, let them dry, then used my nutcracker and picks to get the goods. So yeah, that was a lot of labor. (Look to Iowa State University for complete instructions.)
We couldn't keep Einstein away from the nuts--or even the shells.
But on the other hand, no one would have been paying me for my time off on a Sunday afternoon. And it was–somewhat–enjoyable. So yes, it was worth it. Next year, though, I’ll plan a little better. Maybe I could organize a nut whacking bee with my neighbors. (Or maybe I’m just out of my mind.)
Following is one of my favorite uses for black walnuts. This uses expensive ingredients from better days. But it’s still cheaper than going to a restaurant.
A bunch or two of seedless red grapes, washed and picked off the stem
One apple, peeled, cored and chopped
2-3 tablespoons medium soft cheese (I like stilton with mango)
1/4 cup black walnuts, chopped
fruit salad dressing to taste (Cindy’s Kitchen blueberry is my personal favorite)
Combine everything and mix with dressing to taste. Serve immediately.
Posted by: Roxie
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