It’s fall, folks. Leaves are falling, there’s a chill in the air, and we’re caught each day in the balance between golden rays of sun and cloudy, drizzly skies. We have had several stunning sunsets at the farm lately, featuring half stormy, half sunny skies. Each day, that sunset comes a little bit later and I’m reminded that winter will be here before too long and all my precious fresh vegetables will be dead or hibernating under a blanket of snow.
With the time we have left, I have been gathering together food and squirreling it away for winter. My most squirrel-like project, literally, has been gathering walnuts that have fallen from the black walnut trees on the farm. Each walnut is covered in a very tenacious husk that you must peel away before you get to the equally impenetrable nutshell concealed within. A little over a week ago, I picked up a bushel of fallen walnuts and brought them into the house where I sat atop a layer of towels and pulled the husks off with gloved hands. Walnut husks will dye your hands black, and even with my gloves on, I managed to blacken my thumbs and forefingers, and they are STILL black over a week later.
It is impossible to remove every little bit of fleshy husk from the walnut shells, so after I had husked them, my dad brought his pressure washer down to the farm and we blasted them with high pressure water. Now they are sitting on my porch (protected from squirrels) drying and curing for a couple of weeks before I crack the shells to extract the nut meat from inside. Apparently, black walnuts have the hardest shells of any walnut species and will destroy a regular nutcracker, so you have to crack them with a hammer on a hard surface. I look forward to the challenge!
Back in mid-July, I gathered a couple dozen green walnuts from the trees for another project. At that time of the year, the walnuts were still green and hadn’t yet formed a hard shell inside. You can cut right through them with a regular kitchen knife and a little bit of forearm oomph. I cut the green walnuts in quarters, stuffed them in mason jars, and poured vodka over them. My aim was to make Nocino, a bitter liqueur favored in Italy, which can be used for medicinal purposes. And drinky treats too, of course. The green walnuts must steep in high grain alcohol or vodka for at least a few months before it is consumed. Back in July, I figured I’d give the nocino a good 6 months before I break it open. That way, when it’s freezing cold in December or January, I’ll have my own homemade walnut tonic to keep me warm. It’s just another bit of farm-y summer goodness put away in jars for the winter.