Squirreling Away, Curing and Cracking Walnuts

November 4, 2013 · 8 comments

walnuts // Wayward Spark

As much as I love the rhythms and routines of canning and making jam, there’s something about the slow, quiet act of cracking and picking apart nuts that speaks to me. Once again, my parents’ towering English walnut tree let loose a bumper crop of nice nuts, and a few weeks ago, I got a little compulsive about spending big chunks of time combing over their lawn, peeling hulls off shells, gathering up the harvest, and staining my poor, weathered hands a lovely shade of dark brown. But, ahhh…the reward!

After they’re collected, walnuts need to dry out before cracking. Ideally, one would have a large, heated space where nuts could be spread in single layers on airy racks for this curing time, but unfortunately, I do not have access to such a facility. Instead, I’ve managed to dry this year’s walnuts by rotating them through a circuit of a crate next to the woodstove then to an egg basket hanging in the hot rafters then to a mesh citrus bag stored on the back porch. (There’s some pretty helpful info about harvesting, drying, and storing nuts in this UC Davis publication.) Most of the walnuts I harvested are adequately dry at this point.

Last year, my mom, my cousin, and I cracked and picked out a large quantity of walnuts during some down time on our Thanksgiving weekend vacation. We could certainly do that again in a couple weeks, but I’ve gotten a head start by working on the pile a little at a time while carrying on conversations with Henry or the kids. Last weekend, my friend Dayna and I sat around gabbing, drinking tea, and picking apart nuts for a couple hours, and we made really good progress.

walnuts // Wayward Spark

Charlotte loves fruit, vegetables, and carbs, but it can be hard to get her to eat healthy protein. Levi loves cheese, carbs, and meat, but he’s getting progressively pickier about eating fibrous fruits and vegetables.┬áBoth my kids, however, really like walnuts, and in this house, they know that they’re allowed to eat as many nutrient-and-protein-packed nuts as they want. I’ve even found myself snacking on them nearly every day, and I didn’t even think I like straight-up raw walnuts that much. They’re actually pretty tasty.

You know who else loves walnuts? The dog. Seriously. As I’m typing this, Kit is going back and forth from the crate full of drying walnuts by the fire to her favorite hiding place under the kitchen table where she proceeds to crack the shells with her teeth and gnaw out the bits of nut meat. She’s probably eaten at least ten in the last half hour. It can’t be good for her teeth, but I imagine that the nuts are as healthy for her as they are for us. Now if only she could clean up her mess when she’s finished…

I’m dying to know if anyone else out there has such a nut-loving dog. Have you ever seen this behavior in a dog before?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Tillie November 5, 2013 at 4:21 am

Thank you for sharing your life with us on this blog, I very much enjoy it. When I was a child we had a dog named Dilly and she ate walnuts out of the big burlap sack my dad had purchase them in. We thought it odd but then again she was a special dog. I would also like to say I lost one of my best dogs ever to old age and related issues last year. His name was Kit. I would venture a guess that a walnut-eating dog named Kit is extra special! Have a beautiful day!

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Becky November 5, 2013 at 4:44 am

We often had large buckets of pecans hanging around the farm that I worked at, and the farm dog would get into the buckets just like Kit. I always thought it was weird, but guess it’s not so strange after all.

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Jessica November 5, 2013 at 5:37 pm

My parent’s dog is obsessed with Hazelnuts – he probably would be with with walnuts as well, if they had a walnut tree! They ended up actually having to really keep an eye on the tree and picking up shells daily because he would eat so many of them that he would get stomach problems and bloating, likely because of the shells. Same thing with apples and pears.

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Mary Ann Cauthen November 5, 2013 at 5:57 pm

My last dog loved pecans, apples & raw green beans. When processing any of these foods, we would throw some across the room so she had to walk a ways to get them, & we could continue snapping, shelling or peeling! Special dogs! Mary Ann

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Kathy November 6, 2013 at 4:05 am

Our last lab would casually go into the garden and pick a ripe, red tomato now and then for a snack. He would wander around, eventually make a selection, tug it off the plant, then lie in the grass to enjoy his treat! He was a character and remains a favorite topic whenever the extended family gathers together. One often hears from across the room, “Remember when Barkley….” He was found as an obviously abused stray by labs4rescue at the age of 5-8 and shared our home for 7 years. A happier dog does not exist. Adopt adult dogs…there are millions available.

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John M November 6, 2013 at 7:27 pm

My lab, a rescued dog now about 18 months loves walnuts, and will pick them off the ground and crunch away. He may have been abandoned in the orchards and fields of the upper Sacramento Valley, and learned to forage.

The photos show a lot of shells discolored, and my guess is a number lay on the ground too long, picked up moisture which leaches something from the hull to penetrate the outer shell- ie. the dark coloring. Just a guess. I am new to the Valley, and am just learning about nut tree harvests. (I grow almonds on my property)

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Stephanie November 7, 2013 at 10:23 am

My little dog loves almonds, although he doesn’t have enough teeth left to crack open any kind of shell. They are my Mom’s favourite snack so when we go visit her house he runs in the door and hunts under the chairs where she usually sits, looking for any she’s dropped. He likes most fruit and veggies, and especially loves pineapple. Not kale though, that is apparently too much to ask of a dog and he spits it out angrily.

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Camille November 7, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Thanks for all the great dog stories, everyone! I’ve often heard of dogs eating all manner of fruit and vegetables, but I hadn’t heard about nut-eating dogs before. I’m glad to know that my dog’s not too crazy. I forgot to mention that the first day I walked around picking up walnuts, I think Kit may have accidentally ingested some amoung of green walnut hull and ended up barfing in my car later on. I guess there are some risks associated with the behavior.

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