132. The last bowl of walnuts

Last year there was not a single walnut on our tree. We are down to our last bowl of walnuts.

After two years of abundant harvests, it was quite disappointing. It had been so nice to look at the bags of walnuts in the grocery store, nod, and think, Yes! I don’t have to pay those prices. And mine are organic.

The unproven theory — put forth by our neighbor — was that a late freeze killed all the buds, but the first-year-peach tree had five delicious peaches on it, and the two trees are within a hundred feet of each other. Seems like a killer frost would have killed those peach buds too.

We’re only beginner backyard orchardists, so we have no answers, but we are checking on that walnut tree every day for signs of blossoms and keeping tabs on the temperature at night.

Walnut tree bud

English Walnut trees — also called Persian Walnuts or Carpathian Walnuts (Juglans regia) are not native to Southwestern Pennsylvania, so it isn’t surprising that the harvests might be sporadic. They are commercially grown in this country in California, Oregon, and Washington, and PA’s climate is very dissimilar! Native to Southwestern Asia and Southeastern Europe, every site on the internet assures me that they are cold tolerant to thirty below zero. (It didn’t get that cold this past February, thank goodness.)

English walnut tree
But some optimistic soul planted it, and it’s doing well here in USDA Zone 6A, with abundant harvests two out of the last three years.

The Penn State Extension web site tells me that Juglans regia does not self-pollinate and two varieties are necessary to get nuts. Hmmm. I wonder where those bumper crops came from? We do have several native black walnuts (Juglans nigra) down over the hill in the woods. Perhaps theory two is that the factors for pollination were just not right last year. That same website gives the requirements for pollination: the temperature has to be between 60 and 85 degrees, not windy, not rainy, and not much else blooming. No wonder there weren’t any walnuts last year — it is always windy up here on Apple Hill, and it rains a good bit, too. Today, April 22, it poured rain this morning, the sun is shining now, and it is 44 degrees at 2:00 pm. Not ideal for pollination.

Walnut tree

Another site on the Internet tells me that plants don’t like to grow under walnut trees because of a substance they emit called juglone, which is a natural herbicide. These daffodils don’t seem to mind.  And note the grass growing in the middle of the three trunks.

Theory three of the “no nuts last year phenomena” is the seven year cycle of productivity. I might be more inclined to accept this one if there had been just a few walnuts; however, the fact that there was not one nut, nothing, nada, makes me question that theory.

But when I googled seven year cycle of fruit, I got some very interesting results: the story of the seven year cycle ordained by God in Leviticus 25:1-7 — that the land should lay fallow the seventh year — like the weekly Sabbath, the seventh year (or Shemitah year) would be a time of rest for the land and for the agricultural society. They wouldn’t plant; they wouldn’t harvest; the land would lay fallow. Instead, God would provide food miraculously for the people, as He provided manna and meat for them in the desert.

Now, I don’t think that we need to follow the Levitical rules that God laid down for the Hebrews in the Old Testament, but I do believe that God gave humankind those rules for a reason. Does the land need to rest? Absolutely.

Do we need Sabbath rest? Absolutely.

Does the walnut tree need to rest? Hmmm….

If you’ve followed this rabbit trail of a post this far, you should be rewarded. So though I can’t actually make it for you, I will tell you it’s one of the easiest, best treats ever; you can have it on your plate with a warm mug of tea in under an hour. And it’s heavy on my two favorite ingredients: apples and walnuts. How can you go wrong?

Apples and chopped walnuts

Apple Walnut Pudding Cake

Apple Walnut Pudding Cake

And what better way to use that last bowl of walnuts?

28. The Walnut Harvest; or Nuts on the ground, Nuts in the house

We are considering changing the name of the cottage to Apple Walnut Cottage. No? Sort of sounds like a diet dessert, doesn’t it?


The nut harvest has been bountiful. In fact, the entire garage bedroom is filled with drying walnuts. Last week we thought we had an amazing amount, and this past weekend the nuts on the ground doubled. We had to go scrounging for more screens — sliding glass door screens do have a use after all!
The amazing fact about these English Walnuts is the husks dry in the trees and the walnuts fall from the husks ready to pick up.

This is what the ground looks like under the tree:

    After doing some online research, I discovered that:
      English walnuts will keep in the shell for several months.

(Good. It will take us that long to shell them.)

      Store in a cool, dry place.

(I’ve always wondered if Everyone but Me has cool, dry places in their house…)

      Shelled nuts can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 6 months and in the freezer for well over a year.

(Seems to me that keeping them in the fridge would make them soggy. I might try the freezer though.)

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With all these apples and walnuts, a cake is calling out to me… I was about to make one of Mr. H.C.’s favorites. The recipe was given to his mother by Anna Hincy, one of the cafeteria ladies at East Franklin School, who also did cakes on the side. But after looking at the recipe, I think I’ll pass. I was willing to make it from unbleached white flour; I was willing to use sugar; but I draw the line at Crisco… So I will experiment with this recipe and give you the results later. (It sounds like it might be a Christmas Cake.) In the meantime, here is a snack cake you can eat with no guilt.

Apple Walnut Cake Apple Walnut Cottage Cake

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Gather together:

    1 cup honey
    1/2 cup coconut oil
    1 3/4 cup sprouted wheat flour
    1 cup chopped walnuts
    3 cups chopped apples
    1 t. Vanilla
    2 eggs
    1 t. Salt
    1 t. Baking soda
    1 t. Cinnamon
    Nutmeg to taste
    Lemon juice to pour over the apples to keep them from browning.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour the honey into a medium-sized mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer for ten minutes. I had never done this before, but don’t eliminate this step. It makes the honey thick, light, and creamy.

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I peeled most of the apples, but I left one pretty red one unpeeled for color.

While the honey is whisking, chop the apples and walnuts. Squeeze lemon juice over the apples

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Just in case you are cracking your own walnuts, this is the tool to use. These Channelocks are fully open and they give the nut-cracker lots of control.

Add the coconut oil and beat until well mixed. Then add the two eggs and the vanilla and mix well.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Add the flour mixture to the honey mixture in two batches and just mix it in by hand with a large spoon. Mix in the nuts and apples by hand also.
Spread into a well-greased 9 x 9 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes before serving.
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Some important stuff about this weird recipe:
Coconut oil is the new miracle food. It’s pricey, but I just bought some at Trader Joes for $5.99 a jar. It may be overhyped — it is one of those good fats — but you can read about its health benefits at this website.
Sprouted wheat flour is not gluten-free, but the wheat is sprouted and then the sprouts are ground into this flour-like substance, which does give it much less gluten and makes it more easily digested. You can get it at health food stores, co-ops, and online at Shiloh Farms. (Note: Sprouted wheat flour is not completely gluten-free.)  Of course, you can use regular flour — just increase the amount to two cups.

I could hardly wait to taste this cake so I cut a piece before it was cool. This is one cake that needs to cool a bit — it tasted much better a half hour later.

I adapted this recipe from The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen. But I changed it enough that I’m giving it a new name — Apple Walnut Cottage Cake. Yep, a healthy diet dessert.

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(Mr. H.C. thought this cake was delicious; but, truth be told, he is dessert-starved these days, and he would probably eat cardboard if it had honey or maple syrup on it.) Not that this cake tastes like cardboard! It is actually better the next day for breakfast. Enjoy!