Not Far From the Tree: Black Walnut, That Is

Black Walnut Tree in Old Episcopal Burying Ground, Lexington, Kentucky

Black Walnut Tree in Old Episcopal Burying Ground, Lexington, Kentucky

Black Walnuts at the end of Campsie Place, Lexington, Kentucky

Black Walnuts at the end of Campsie Place, Lexington, Kentucky

The Eastern black walnut (Juglans nigra) tree above, rooted in the marvelous Old Episcopal Burying Ground that forms the southern boundary of our backyard, generously shares its nuts on our side of the fence most years. This year I will harvest our portion of this windfall. Black walnuts, native to our part of the world, offer a distinctive, dark, rich taste that pairs perfectly with chocolate, caramel, and apples.

I am convinced -- enough to publish it for all the world (or at least Savoring Kentucky readers) to see -- that black walnuts will prove in time to contain miraculous healing or age-defying compounds. The more we know about nuts and berries, especially dark ones, the more we learn of their anti-oxidant powers and other health-supporting nutrients.

Black walnuts have typically been hard to find commercially, although that is changing. Good Foods Market often offers them in half-pint containers. The nuts are so expensive and strongly flavored that a few seem enough to flavor an entire batch of Blonde Brownies. The rich flavor does not appeal to everyone, but if you know your crowd and want true black walnut flavor to play a starring role, consider these Flourless Chocolate Black Walnut Sandwich Cookies, developed for a National Black Walnut taste test earlier this year.

I had to call my smart, handsome Wayne County bro to refresh my country girl memory of how to harvest black walnuts. I had vague memories of the fun of picking up the green-husked nuts, the black hands of foragers who gathered and sold the nuts, and something about burlap bags and car tires.

Now I know. I'm raking these walnuts onto a concrete pad in our back yard over the weekend, and once the outer hulls start to break down, I'll find non-automotive ways to encourage the messy soft outer husk to give up its hold on the hard inner shell. Then I'll bring them into shelter in buckets, and devise just the right way to crack their shells and fish out the nuts curled around inside.

I am pleased to add black walnuts to the list of free, fabulous foods that grow without my help right at my heart-of-the-city location. This particular, productive black walnut tree grows about 25 feet from the wonderful mulberry tree featured here. I suspect a mulberry-black walnut pie would be heavenly, but they ripen in different seasons, and no mulberries have yet made it from tree to freezer -- or even to a saucepan in out house. We simply stand under the tree, eat the berries, and say "Mmmmmmmmmulberries."

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The world is coming to visit central Kentucky this year for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. To help our visitors know more about Kentucky's food and food ways, Savoring Kentucky is rolling out 116 Savory Kentucky Bites, one for each of the 100 days before WEG begins, and 16 for the days during WEG, September 25 - October 10. Today's Savory Bite is number 114.