Here I am, bending over in my back yard on this sunny early fall afternoon, disgusted with the task of having to pick up all of the now softening black walnuts before I could mow the grass laden with leaves.   After my third wheelbarrow load, I thought "It has been a good year for walnuts", " God must be preparing the squirrels for a hard winter".    That happened to be a flashback term used by my mother and her mother before herself. 

My mind wander backwards as I walked bent over to the ground, my back getting weary,  to a time in my childhood days.   In the early fall as the Black Walnuts began to fall, Mom would gather up her little helpers and "gunny" or burlap sacks that hog feed and grain seeds were packaged in; setting out to for the woods to gather nuts before the squirrels hoarded them all for their long winter.

Of course without someone to direct our task like Mom, the green walnut shells were much more fun to throw at a passing rabbit or a curious bird,  than to add to an already heavy sack.   Nonetheless, by the end of the afternoon, the bags were full and loaded into the trunk of her car.    Work was now done……. Not so…….. not for Mom anyway.

Mother knew that if she were to provide a good chocolate fudge for winter evening card parties with Uncle Bill and Aunt Wilhelmina, she needed  to include some tasty black walnut meats.  That required more work as the nut meats would have to dry before winter storage.   

First the task was to remove the nut hulls from their hard shell.  The simplest way was to spread them over the ground where cars, tractor and farm implements crossed, forcing the hulls from the shells.  Once cleaned, with nutmeats still in their shell,  they were placed in a metal "wash tub" and covered with water for washing.  Now I know where "walnut stain" came from……… and where it went……. all over Mom's hands for weeks.  The final step to prepare was to lay them out to dry in the sun.   The nuts were placed on old window screens that were saved just for this purpose,  allowing air to circulate around them.   

Once dry, the once bags full of nuts were condensed to one or two buckets and carried to the cellar for storage.
To make the nuts usable, they had to be cracked open and "picked" out with a walnut pick, both a very tedious job.    The hardest surface on the farm to crack the nuts open with a hammer, was the concrete top of the cistern in good weather or the heavy metal clothes iron from the wood stove.  Oh what practice did it take to 'smack' the very hard walnut shell with enough force to crack it open, not completely smash it or even worse, to send it sailing across the room or yard.   The task was boring and soon wore out it's welcome, consequently several sessions were required throughout the winter before complete.    After all, it didn't take too many to keep ahead of Mom's pick, another slow and tedious task.  To see pictures of the nut pick and nutmeats (click here).

Now, after all of this work, what did we end up with for a crop?  ………… about 1 ˝ lbs of nut meat that would fit into a Karo Syrup can.   A few days later while shopping at the local supermarket, I stumbled into the 'nut' aisle and the black walnuts.   Guess what I found….. three packages of black walnuts…. All in large pieces (that woman's boy is sure better with a hammer than I was) at a price of $1.50 each.  Did I purchase them? …. No, they probably wouldn't taste nearly as good as those from Mom's labor of Love.   

I also think a batch of Mom's homemade fudge, especially the not quite hard "spoonin'" kind, a cold winter's night of playing cards with Mom, Dad, Uncle Bill and Aunt Wilhelmina would surely be welcome.

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Email: Rich Hoback