Saturday, October 18, 2008

I Got Plenty of Nuttin'

A few years ago, I was astonished and delighted beyond measure to discover that a couple of older ladies had home-grown walnuts for sale at the farmers' market.

Now, if you know me, you know I am nuts about nuts, and finding a local source for one of my favorite nuts thrilled me. Unfortunately, I never saw them again after that year, and though my friend Sojourner has kindly sent me some pecans from a farm local to her, I have not been able to source my nuts locally.

Last year, in my desperation, I did an Internet search for nuts in Ohio and stumbled across a grower not too far from me. I contacted him too late in the season, but he promised to add me to his mailing list for this year.

Just last week, I finally heard from The Nut Farmer and received a list of the nuts he had available and the cost per pound (shelled and in shell). He had butternuts, heartnuts, hazelnuts, black walnuts, hickory nuts, and a couple of cross varieties -- but his Persian walnut crop provided nothing of substance this year.

Still, it was enough to set my mouth watering, so I shot an email back to him with my order and a request for directions so that I could head down and pick them up (and save on shipping).

I persuaded My Wonderful Parents to join me on a lovely country drive to take advantage of the sunny fall glow today, and we wandered down the road to the Nut Farm. The farmer, his wife, and their lively squirrel-chasing dog greeted us enthusiastically, and I traipsed off with the Nut Farmer to collect my boxes.

He demonstrated how best to crack the nuts (since I had bought them in shell), especially the hard-shelled butternuts, and he offered samples of the fresh nuts to us all. Aside from the hazelnuts, I hadn't tried any of the varieties I had requested, but I loved them all!

I took some time to talk with the Nut Farmer, who explained that he had been planting, grafting, and harvesting these nut trees since he retired in 1988, and he did most of the work himself (aside from the gathering help from their grandchildren). He talked about some of the problems he faces: the hickory trees are too tall to spray, so he has to harvest them quickly to avoid future infestations of the hickory weevil. And his butternuts are among the last in the country -- 90% of the nation's butternuts have succumbed to a canker, and though his trees show this canker, they are still producing good nuts, and he's the only one in the country to sell them. (Sorry, he's already sold out!)

It proved to be an educational visit for me, and I thanked him profusely for his time before climbing back into the car and heading home with my boxes.

I did share plenty of each kind of nut with My Wonderful Parents, in thanks for their transportation (and for the gallon jug of local apple cider vinegar they brought me!), but I saved the bulk for my winter baking. Here you see a box of hazelnuts on top (part of the 5 lbs. I bought) and the butternuts below (the remains of 10 lbs.).

The hicans, on the left, are a cross between hickory nuts and pecans, and though they taste much like pecans, they have a delightful sweet husky subtlety that seduce your tastebuds. (Think of them as the Lauren Bacall of nuts.) The heartnuts, on the right, are related to walnuts and have a lighter, slightly more buttery taste.

I'll wait until I'm ready to use them before cracking most of the nuts open, but you can see them here: clockwise from upper left, hicans, heartnuts, and hazelnuts. (I wasn't able to crack a butternut on my own.) I'm keeping them in cold storage (my north-facing studio room, which has the floor vents closed) until I'm ready to get crackin'.

Nut until then!

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At 10/20/2008 2:34 PM, Blogger Phoenix said...

So glad you were able to find a source for your Nutty Self! :-)

I'm not familiar with some of the varieties you mentioned--very interesting!

At 10/20/2008 2:36 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Thanks, Phoenix -- I know you're nuts about it, too. ;-) It was very exciting to learn about the new nuts.

At 10/20/2008 9:45 PM, Anonymous Janet said...

Very interesting about the butternuts, and the hicans sound divine. It will be interesting to see how you use them all.

At 10/21/2008 7:04 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

I agree, Janet -- I'm going to have a lot of fun baking and cooking with those this winter!


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