The Nut Harvest
It was fall 2011 and once again I stood, rake in hand, staring at the huge and onerous job awaiting me. Before me completely carpeting our lawn, at least ankle deep, were large green orbs the size of tangerines. A storm system, accompanied by high winds, had brought down this deluge. It certainly had been a bumper crop year for our large black walnut trees! As I began to attack the seemingly truckloads of leaves and nuts, my mind drifted back to the fall of 1972 and my first encounter with these dreaded foes.
We had just purchased the property from the Alexanders; Sara and Sam, who had resided in the stone home for the past forty-one years. Here they had raised a large family, and had even taken in boarders from the large woolen mill during the war years. At this time, there were four large black walnut trees adorning the front yard. The shade cast over the front of the house that hot summer was a large factor in our decision to purchase (with no thought, of course, given to the autumn chore of raking and disposing of all the leaves).
Getting the job done would require a rake; and as a new homeowner I didn’t own one, so I was off to Hurst Hardware. Upon completion of this hard shopping trip; and being away from the house on a beautiful sunny fall afternoon, I felt I deserved a cold beer before I put the yard tool to work. Besides, being an optimist, perhaps I could invite some friends home to give me a hand! As was usual in those days, the Hespeler Legion was a busy place in the late afternoon with our members getting off work and seeking “a cool one” before heading home for supper. As luck would have it, Jim Alexander was sitting at a nearby table. The oldest of the Alexander boys had spent his formative years in the house and would understand my problem intimately!
I had known Jim since the early 60s when we both worked at Simplicity Products Ltd. Jim was a large strong man, born in Scotland, who still retained his Scottish brough. A war veteran and true hero, he had been awarded the Military Medal by King George V, the second highest award for bravery in the British Commonwealth.
I joined his table and bided my time until I could seek his advice. Seeing a break in the conversation, I outlined the problem I faced, and asked; “how did your family dispose of the wheelbarrow loads of black walnuts”? His immediate response was “eat them”. Being relatively young and naïve, the thought had not occurred to me. Suspecting perhaps I was being setup, I voiced my skepticism about whether they were edible. “They certainly are” he answered, “my father used to gather them up every fall to eat”. Now intrigued I asked “how would I go about preparing them to eat”. “Well”, he said, “I’ve never done it myself, mind you, but I can tell you how Dad did it”. “That would be great”, I said “because I don’t know anything about them”. By this time everyone at our table and many from the surrounding tables were listening with the view of learning a bit of folklore about harvesting nature’s bounty. Jim continued: “Dad would select the largest walnuts in bushel baskets, then fill a large bucket with water and pour the walnuts in; the ones that floated to the top were discarded as being full of air and not nutmeat. Next came the dirty part. He would husk each one, making sure to remove the entire husk so they wouldn’t spoil. This operation would leave his hands black with stain which would take weeks to wear off, unless of course, you wear rubber gloves which Dad never did. Now he took the bushel baskets filled with nuts to the basement to let them dry. There is a great need for patience at this stage and Dad always forgot about them for awhile. About the end of January or the beginning of February, he would rediscover his harvest. By this time they would be covered in mold and Dad would throw them in the garbage!”
I finished my beer amongst a great deal of laughter and returned home to finally tackle the job.