Tastes and Smells Then and Now (Part 3)

With all the holiday baking calling for my attention, I’m still compelled to add to what I started before stuffing myself with my son-in-law’s turkey and all the trimmings.

Remember my declaration in Part 2 that “There’s no such thing as too many nuts”? Well, that philosophy is the evolved version. In my childhood and youth there were days when a mere cup of nuts seemed over the top. Way too labor intensive.

We had, on our near-country acre, three black walnut trees. The one behind and close to the house reminded me of Longfellow’s line Under the spreading chestnut tree . . . Our oldest tree had a trunk and spreading branches as expansive as the poem’s and an abundant annual crop.

The odious fall task of gathering the fallen nuts–still robed in smelly, squishy outer coverings– sometimes fell to my sister and me. We wore Daddy’s heavy duty gloves to keep some of the dark brown—similar to tobacco juice—from staining our hands as we scooped up basketsful and toted them down to the front of the lawn. Dumped alongside the unpaved road, the occasional car (and ours) took care of the outer shell shucking in a week or so.

Whatever the resident squirrel didn’t carry off of the dried tough-coated, wrinkle-ridged nuts would, as our reward, end up in all kinds of candies and home-baked goods.

Black Walnut in Shell
Black Walnut in Shell

The smell and taste of black walnuts was/is distinctive and to us worth the occasional boo-boo during the shell cracking process. We took turns holding a nut between thumb and forefinger on an old tree stump by the storage barn door and let a sound whack with a small wooden mallet do the job of getting to the “meat.”

Cookies and candies required hours of nut picking after the shells were demolished. We use the same style silver pickers today. For Christmas we anticipated Mom’s Divinity fudge—snow white, light and airy melt-in-your-mouth morsels. I don’t recall having that treat any other time of year.

English walnuts were—for us—an extravagance, appearing only at Christmastime in the mixed assortment which stretched our cotton tan stockings to the lumpy limit. One or two squeezes of the silver nut cracker opened filberts, pecans, hazel nuts, almonds, and English walnuts. Brazil nuts, in our pre-political correctness youth, were innocently called “nigger toes.” Please—no hate mail for my honest reporting of historical detail.

Butter Bowl Mixed NutsSilver nutcracker and pick
Butter Bowl Mixed Nuts
Silver nutcracker and pick

Over years, I acquired (adding at least one a year) a sizable wooden nutcracker collection from which I assembled and transported a manageable group for display when introducing The Nutcracker Ballet to my second grade music classes. Most of these have been donated to my music-teaching daughter. The hand-carved keepsake my parents bought  in Switzerland more than fifty years ago on a Cook’s Tour of Europe is my hands-down favorite. He’s family.

Nutcraker Front Nutcracker Mouth Open

Keepsake hand-carved nutcracker (for display only)

One thought on “Tastes and Smells Then and Now (Part 3)

  1. I remember the gathering of black walnuts and loved the flavor especially the taste in fudge—haven’t had any like that for years. I cherish the hand carved nutcracker and keep him up for all to admire throughout the entire year.

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