Sunday, October 19, 2008

Walnut Harvest!

When we bought our house in 1995 one of the first things we said we wanted was a walnut tree. We planted one during the first autumn. It was a hybrid walnut (var. Broadview) grafted onto fancy rootstock. It was that many years ago now, I can't remember the sort of rootstock it was grafted onto, possibly semi-dwarfing rootstock.

I can't even remember where be bought the tree. It was a catalogue nursery that would sell their fruit trees from the "farm gate" as it were. We weren't allowed to go and have a look at the trees available. We could only stand in a shed and look at the photocopied sheet containing the list of plants that were ready to sell that week and would be lifted once we purchased the items. We were told by the grumpy nurseryman that this tree would give us nuts earlier than any walnut variety available. So we bought our tree and took it home in the autumn sunshine (we had sunshine back then) to plant it.

The winter that came next was a hard one. I remember houses having burst pipes up and down the length of Scotland. The village primary school which is located only two fields away from our house had a frozen and then burst pipe over that Christmas holiday. We had ice on the inside of the windows and the olive oil in the kitchen went cloudy. In addition the dish washing soap jelled up. I would have to hold the plastic bottle of washing up soap in the warm dishwater to get it to a squeezable consistency. It was brutal.

In the spring it was evident that our newly planted walnut tree suffered terribly. A great deal of the tree had died. I thought at first that the entire tree was gone. I trimmed back a lot of the obviously dead material and then just left it to see what would happen. Sure enough later on that spring there was a sprout near the bottom of the tree. It was still alive and the sprout was miraculously above the graft where the young tree had been grafted onto the special rootstock. If the sprout had been below or on the graft, I would have dug up the tree and started again with a fresh one.

Years rolled by and the tree got bigger and healthier. I wondered when we would start to get walnuts as this was reported to be such an earlier producer. A few years ago we were delighted to see flower/walnut buds on our tree. Sadly these young starts really never came to anything. This year however the buds stayed on and started to swell. Walnut buds earlier this year. This is usually the stage where the buds fall off . . . .

As I had seen early signs of walnuts only to be disappointed I didn't want to get my hopes up. Well this year the buds didn't fall off. They stayed on and swelled throughout the year. I didn't know when I could harvest them so I thought I'd just be patient. I have waited this long for walnuts, I could wait a little longer. The tree would let me know.

Looking out the front window this morning I could see that the outer husks of the walnuts had split and I could see the familiar brown nut inside. The Man of the Place had been doing some work outside earlier. As he was just as excited by the fact that we had actual walnuts he got the step ladder over to the tree and picked all that he could see.You can see by this photo that the rain has come back. We were pretty lucky actually. The rain stayed away until about lunchtime on Sunday afternoon. Not bad when we were expecting the rain to start on Saturday morning.
This is the total of this year's walnut harvest. It isn't much, but I'm thrilled to bits. You can see in the photo that most of the nuts still have their splitting outer shells.

I have never had a fresh walnut before. The softness of the nutmeat is surprising. I've only had experience of the dried walnuts. It isn't an unpleasant taste but I wouldn't know what to do with these green nuts other than to pickle them. I think I will get those outer hulls off and get the walnuts dried somewhere safe. If nobody in the house has any objection, I have plans to make Esterhazy torte, a cake made with walnuts that I discovered during my first trip to Budapest in May.

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