I was reading this book on foraging last week when I learnt that United States is the most nut endowed country in the world. Upon reading that, I realized, my life so far has gone by without having sighted a single nut-tree or a fresh nut. However, living in Houston has come to be a boon in certain ways. Over the years, we have come to know this city to be a melting pot of cultures owing to its bustling oil and gas industry. As a result, this place is dotted with food joints representing a variety of cuisines and specialty grocery stores from around the world, Mediterranean being one of them.
Each visit to a Middle eastern or Persian specialty food store is a discovery trip for me. And, that is where I would meet fresh walnuts for the first time. During one such shopping extravaganzas recently, I was curious when the lady with her head covered in a black veil standing behind me in the billing line was clutching a box of walnuts in shell. Very naively, I asked her what she planned to do with them. Her answer was plain and simple. “We just love to crack it open and eat with the kids”.
“Wow! That sounds interesting. I would love to share that experience with my little girl”, I thought and promptly returned home with a box myself.
I mean, where does this generation get to experience “such luxuries” when nuts are always cleaned, shelled and sold in sealed plastic bags. Do they even know where these nuts came from? What the tree looks like or how the leaves are? I would love for my little girl to know the source and history behind the food she eats. I would love for her to stay connected to nature through her food. Besides, as busy adults we ourselves often forget to enjoy the little pleasures of life. The simple child like joy that comes from trying to unravel something hidden inside a shell is unparalleled.
Fresh walnuts, as we discovered, are so different from their widely available dried shelled halves. If you have ever eaten freshly harvested peanuts cracked right out of their shell, raw, juicy and smelling of earth, you will know what I am trying to convey about the charm of fresh walnuts.
Catch hold of a good friend, your curious little one or your spouse on a chatty evening before you embark on this. You’ll need a good conversation to distract you from prying the nut out of the steely chambers guarding it. Nature never ceases to amaze us in her mysteriously clever ways. I always wondered why walnuts are sold as halves and not whole. As we cracked the nuts open pounding them with the pestle, tucked inside an inescapable mortar, we learnt that it is just not possible to pull out a whole walnut out of its shell without breaking it in half. Cracking was the easy part.
To crack open a shelled walnut:
(when you don’t have a nutcracker)
Lay the walnut in a mortar, on its side on the mid line that runs through. Pound on its center along the line, a couple of firm shots at a time to put just enough pressure to crack it and not break it into pieces. Watch out for the shards flying around.
Use a small dessert fork or nut cracker pin to pry open the nuts from the shell.
Look out for rotten nuts or even worms sometimes, before popping them in your mouth.
I preserved the walnut-shells, may be for a craft or use as a prop later. They were too pretty to throw away.
If you are lucky to have a walnut tree or any nut-tree in your backyard or farm or anywhere, tell me a thing or two about your memories or experiences…
You are blessed and I’d love to hear your story!