I’m extremely lucky to have an organic garden that is brimming with produce that costs a lot to buy from shops. Fruit trees are all around me and I’ve never seen so many different kinds of plum, from small and round to large and oval, and all one colour per tree, either yellow, orange, red, mauve or purple. Some are sweeter or juicier and better drying for storage or making alcohol from. Then there are the many red and green apple trees and some are delicious eaters or better cooked and the bruised or wasp bitten are for cider making. I have red and white grapes and mulberries too – the white ones are best for wine or rakia. Only one variety of cherry, pear, blackberry and quince, but lots of each.
No work entailed apart from a bit of pruning, harvesting once a year and then trying out new recipes and storage ideas. I also have a huge walnut tree and every year without fail it gives me 20-30 kilo of nuts and they are so simple to store they feature in most of my cake and biscuit recipes and are good until way beyond next years harvest is ready. If you know anyone nearby who has a walnut tree in their garden and they aren’t using its offerings, I thoroughly recommend you ask if you can harvest them. Walnuts are ready from September onwards and the way to tell is when they start to fall from the tree. Take one from a branch, crack it open and have a look. This is the best way to judge as the shells don’t tell you the answer! The nut is encased in a green pod (1st in pic) but be warned, the pod is like a fruit and the insides and residue left on the nut (2ndin pic) will permanently stain your fingers black so it’s very important to wear gloves!
Crack a shell and take a look inside. The flesh inside the nut should be a pale golden colour (4th in pic). Brown skin is a sign they will not be tasty. If the flesh is the right colour they can be harvested. This can be done in 2 ways: 1. Climb up into the tree and shake the branches (making sure there isn’t anything damageable below like a car!) or 2. Using a long strong stick, hit the pods so they fall. Or do both. Pick up from the ground (wearing gloves) into a container before sitting down to remove the outer pods (again wearing gloves). Often these split open saving you the task and I was told if the pod has turned black then discard as they will not be good but I opened a few to see for myself and they were fine but don’t waste your time on black pods that have dried out. Only use the wet casings. Also you must check each shell because the shell must be completely closed. If there is a hole there is likely to be little grubs living inside. Throw these on the compost heap or wood-burner pile as it’s not worth the risk.
Next step is drying: spread the shells out on cardboard in a sunny area for 2-4 days to dry the casings out (3rd in pic). Be sure to place them out of reach of marauders like squirrels and dogs (yes dogs, the first time I left my nuts on ground level, the next day I found some had been moved off the cardboard and cracked, their empty shells left as proof. I kept watch the next night and to my surprise our dog wandered over and started helping himself. He lay down sphinx like, cracked them with his teeth and picked through the shells between his paws!)
If you don’t have any sun, you can put them in an airing cupboard or if you have space, spread them out on newspaper in a warm room. Rotate every day and remove any moldy ones. Quick drying can be done in an oven at a low temperature (50°C) on racks for 1-2 hours depending on how wet your shells are. Don’t worry if you forget about them as roasted walnuts are lovely too but not if the shells are burnt!
Don’t crack them until you want to use them as once the shell has been cracked the fleshy part should be used straight away or it goes soft. You can store cracked nuts in a fridge for only a few days. Walnuts can be eaten raw or crushed and added to a huge number of recipes, eg biscuits, cakes, breads, salads, pies, crumble toppings.