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arrived home one crisp fall afternoon several years ago to find a paper bag on my doorstep. It contained about 75 round green orbs, each about the size of a golf ball. I was baffled as to what they were and where they had come from.

A few days later I popped into our local hardware store and my friend David Sharp asked if I had gotten the bag of walnuts he had left for me.
My first response was no, no one had left me any walnuts. He was a bit surprised, and asked if I was sure, he said he had definitely left a bag with about 75 black walnuts that came from a large tree in his backyard. That’s when it twigged, the bag of round green spheres were walnuts! Although they didn’t look like any walnut I had ever seen.

We were familiar with walnuts in two forms. The broken pieces that my mother used for baking and the unshelled walnuts that showed up every year at Christmastime, these ones were kept in a dish on the coffee table in the living room. On top always sat a pair of silver nutcrackers.

I wasn’t quite sure how to reconcile those two things with what I had in front of me. I did possess slightly more knowledge than I had when I woke up that morning. I now knew the difference between the two types of walnuts. The ones on my mom’s coffee table were English walnuts, with a softer shell and a meat that was fairly easy to obtain. What I had from my friend were black walnuts. These have a very hard shell, making them less popular on the comestible market. The shells of black walnuts are so hard they’re often used as an abrasive in sandblasting. Once open, the meats are also harder to get at. I hadn’t yet determined if all of the effort I was going to have to go through was worth it.

As it turns out, there is the perfect time for removing the outer layer or husk from the inner pit. Once the green outer husk has turned yellow with brown spots, it’s time to make your move. If you try and remove the husk when it’s green, it’s almost impossible, and if it goes past the brown and yellow phase it will begin to decay and there will be a black gooey substance surrounding the pit. Even at the perfect stage you may find some of this, and beware, it will stain everything it touches, including your hands and concrete. I speak from experience; it’s best to wear gloves.

Alain's Candied Walnuts

To remove the outer husk, I simply score all the way around with a knife and twist both sides in opposite directions, which is usually sufficient to separate the outer and inner portions. Once you remove that other green husk, you will see something that is recognizable as a walnut.

I would like to talk about black walnut trees in general. Unbeknownst to me until recently, they are common in Nova Scotia and are more commonly referred to as Eastern black walnuts. These magnificent trees can grow to be 150 ft tall, although 70 to 80 ft is the norm, and it takes 150 years for the tree to reach maturity. Typically, a tree will start producing fruit once it reaches 10 years of age.

The Eastern black walnut will begin dropping its fruit as early as September and can be harvested through November.

Now that we’ve removed the outer husk, you’ll notice the pit may have some of that black ink-like substance on it. You can put the walnuts into a bucket of water. After doing this, it is extremely important to dry the walnuts well. I keep an old metal shelving unit in the basement that I use for this particular purpose. The shelves allow for sufficient air flow so that I don’t get any mold. I typically let my walnuts dry for three to four weeks before transferring them to an airtight container and moving them to my pantry. They will easily last there for up to one year.

Now that our walnuts have been dried, how exactly are we going to get to the meat inside the pit?

The black walnut’s exterior is far too hard for a nutcracker. At first, I was using a hammer, but in addition to breaking the pit, it was also crushing most of the meats inside. I then began using my meat tenderizer, which has a head similar to a hammer, but has a much larger diameter; this allowed me to crush the shell but keep the meat intact. Once opened, the meat can be a bit tricky to extract, but using a nut pick will make this job much easier.

I’m quite certain you’re now wondering why anybody would go through all this effort, when you can simply go to the store and buy shelled walnuts. Black walnuts have a unique flavour, not nearly as subtle, and the taste has been referred to as earthy.

Because they can be very labour intensive there are very few commercial producers of black walnuts. There is a company in the southern states, and we do pick them up from time to time when we’re down there, but I’ve never seen black walnuts sold commercially here in Nova Scotia. So, like a lot of things in life, I’ve learned that if I want to experience the pleasure, I first have to experience the pain and in my opinion it’s a small price to pay.

You’ll notice when baking and cooking, a recipe will vary rarely refer to the type of walnut but uses the general term. It is typically an English walnut that the recipe is calling for. You can use black walnuts as a substitution in any recipe.

The English walnut is not originally from Europe; it originates in Persia, which we know today as Iran. Legend has it that English walnuts grew in the hanging gardens of Babylon. The black walnut is native to eastern North America and the nuts were especially prized by the Native Americans, both for their food and medicine.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been gifted these treasures for several years now and look forward to receiving them and eating them. Even the process of prepping them has become quite enjoyable. 

Alian's Candied Walnuts

¼ cup (50mL) unsalted butter
½ cup (125mL) maple syrup
4 cups (1L) walnut halves
1 tsp (5mL) sea salt
1 tsp (5mL) freshly ground black pepper

Melt butter. Add maple syrup and walnut halves and mix together. Transfer mixture to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake in a 350°F oven (180°C) for approx. 15 min or until syrup caramelizes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Toss occasionally while cooling to keep nuts separated.

Store in an airtight container. 

Walnut & Pear Crumble
(Serves 6)

4 cups (1L) sliced pears
⅓ cup (75mL) white sugar
1 tsp (5mL) cinnamon
2 tbsp (30mL) quick cook tapioca
½ cup (125mL) flour
⅓ cup (75mL) melted butter
½ cup (125mL) walnuts, chopped
⅔ cup (150mL) oats
1 tsp (5mL) baking powder
¼ tsp (1mL) sea salt
⅔ cup (150mL) brown sugar
¼ tsp (1mL) cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter a 10-inch cast iron pan. In a bowl combine sliced pears, sugar, cinnamon, and quick cook tapioca. Mix well and place in cast iron pan. Combine flour, walnuts, oats, baking powder, brown sugar, cardamom and salt. Mix well and add to flour. Melt 1/3 cup (75 mL) butter and add to flour mixture. Place on top of pears. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the top is crisp.Serve warm with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.  



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