Ôfully ripe walnuts won’t keep very long–but then, why would you wait?
southern European cousins. Nor do they do so reliably, with only one in every 10 trees disposed to produce anything but empty husks in any one year.
Mid October is harvest time and itõs best to collect only those that are on the ground as they will be ripe. Like the hazelnut, those that fall earlier will be empty. The shiny (and slightly hairy) nuts are best removed from their extraordinarily prickly husks by gently stamping on them, collecting the nuts that are thus ejected.
The British have a narrow view of the sweet chestnut as a food, consigning it to a hazardous roasting on an open fire at Christmas. However, for me, itõs a kitchen essential. I make mine into a flour (laborious, but worthwhileñ or you can buy it ready-made), which can be added to bread, biscuits, pastry and cakes, made into pancakes or used to make a roux in a cheese sauce or to thicken the juices of a game pie. In fact, you can put it in nearly everything and, in all these things, it transforms from the mundane to the glorious.
The walnut tree also grows reasonably well in Britain, although itõs a native of warmer climes and can be an unreliable fruiter. Itõs certainly not a wild tree as it was introduced, possibly in Roman times, and any you find will be planted in municipal gardens, around car parks or in abandoned domestic gardens. I even know of a row of them gracing a more than usually enlightened industrial estate. Of course, you may have one in your garden, in which case, there will be no need to forage in such unlikely places.
The walnut isnõt noted for being poisonous, so I wonder, therefore, at a report from the Scots Magazine of 1780, which details the sad fate of a Miss Buckworth of Middlesex whose Ôdeath was occasioned by eating an immoderate quantity of walnutsõ. It could be an early case of nut allergy or perhaps she loved them well, but not wisely and ate a couple of pounds.
Notwithstanding this tragedy, the walnut is a superb food and much underused. I particularly love walnut oil, as it will raise a salad dressing above any made with olive oil and a chocolate brownie with broken walnuts in it will have you weeping with joy. Immature (green) walnuts can be used in making an Ôinterestingõ drink by cutting them into quarters and infusing for six weeks in gin, sugar and a few spices. However, itõs a little medicinal for my tasteñrather like the ghastly Ôwinter mixtureõ sweets my grandmother so lovedñbut you might like it. A little riper and youõll have wet walnuts. The flesh is less bitter, soft rather than crunchy and, well, wetña delicacy indeed. Fully ripe walnuts will be just what you would expect, although they wonõt keep very longñbut then, why would you wait? In contrast, beech nuts are at the very edge of edibility. They are small, infrequent and not exactly the most exciting of wild foods as far as taste is concerned, as theyõre high in tannin. Why bother then, one might sensibly ask? Most of the time, the small and prickly shells
Nuts are for life, not just for Christmas: sweet chestnuts (above) and walnuts (below) are greatly under-utilised by many of us