Thursday, September 18, 2008

Where nuts come from

I am typing this with fingers that are stained black.

We have a walnut tree in our garden yard and it is laden with fruit.  Walnuts are one of those things where I was a little vague about how exactly they grew.  Il Capo's father was from the Welsh valleys and he used to talk about the evacuees* that came to his village from Liverpool.  These young city children knew milk came from a cow, but they couldn't work out which part of the cow the bottle came out of.  Same with me and walnuts.  I knew they came from a tree, but after that it got a bit vague.

The walnut that you see in a bag in the shop has an edible kernel and an outer shell, but on the tree this shell is surrounded by a green fleshy hull.  To prepare walnuts you have to remove the hull then leave them somewhere cool and dark to cure for a couple of weeks.  That sounds easy, doesn't it?

Our tree is a black walnut tree, so named (according to my cub scout book of trees) because of its black bark.  Well, our tree's bark is grey, but having hulled an experimental 21 walnuts my fingers are definitely black.  The problem is that the hull doesn't want to come off the shell unless you hit it with a hammer.  And when you hit it with a hammer it sprays out this dark green juice that dries into a black dye.

So a couple of days ago I was out on the deck, hitting these lime-like fruit with a hammer and making my hands look like I'd just stepped out of the cellars of 50s Fleet Street.

I tried cleaning them with alternating washes of soap, lemon juice and a combination of vinegar and baking soda, but none of these had any significant effect.  Il Capo suggested bleach and I couldn't quite tell if she was serious.  After I admitted defeat, Il Capo took me into the kitchen and showed me where "we" keep the gloves.  You can imagine how much I appreciated that.

I'll let you know how the walnuts turn out after curing.

I wonder if is still available.

* In the first couple of years of World War Two, Britain was under continual bombardment from the Luftwaffe.
A decision was taken to evacuate city children to the countryside, where they lived with those who volunteered to take them.  For the children this meant saying goodbye to mother and father (if he wasn't already fighting abroad) and getting on a train with a suitcase and a name-tag around their neck.  Once at the destination station, a coordinator with a clipboard would allocate them to whomever they could find to take them in.
I don't know what the general opinion of this policy was, but my Dad was six when he was evacuated with his older sister and he hated it.  Suffice to say that times were hard, people were forced to accept children they didn't want and the outcome in his case wasn't good.

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