Sunday, October 28, 2012

Black Walnuts

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A few weeks ago we noted that black walnuts were part of our "wild harvest". We actually have a total of at least a half dozen trees growing on the property and this year, three of these produced sufficient nuts for us to harvest. Since these trees fruit every two years we can at least count on a similar harvest next year.

Two weeks ago, the nuts we had collected were "shucked" from their fruit and were washed. Now they should have cured and this week it was time to crack them open.

The shelling of the walnut is actually done in two steps. Because the black walnut has a very hard shell, your conventional nut cracker will definitely not do the trick. So the first step is cracking them open and this really requires a hammer and a very hard surface (in our case a small concrete slab did the trick).

The easiest thing to do at this point is to simply crack all of the nuts before moving on to the second stage.

Now things are just not that simple with black walnuts and things get trickier for this phase of the process.

Unlike its conventional cousin (the English walnut), the black walnut flesh is segmented into four parts (not two). Furthermore, the sections are separated by a thick wall which is as tough as any conventional nut shell.

This calls for a good pair of wire cutters. Making strategic snips around the flesh of the nut you are eventually able to "liberate" some rather large parts of the nut itself....of course this is time consuming and luckily we had our fair share of rain at the farm this week.

The "flotation test" during the washing of the nuts did not let us down and we ended up with a great yield. However we did make one fundamental mistake!

We did not test/taste a nut before getting right down to shelling all of them. It turns out they were still "green" and really not properly cured. The result: a very pungent tasting nut something resembling walnut and raw almond.

To solve this, we decided to place the nuts in an oven at just over 100 deg. Fahrenheit for about two hours (basically artificially curing them). This really had the desired results and we were finally able to use and enjoy this bounty.

Now technically you can use black walnut in all recipes calling for conventional walnuts. For the most part this involves a variety of baked goods.  However, we did find that the black walnut does have a very intense and distinctive taste. In fact some people call for using a quarter of what you would normally use in a conventional walnut recipe.

We decided to make a meal centered on the black walnut drawing on this strong and distinctive taste.

The appetizer consisted of baked brie. This was really easy. We topped a brie with a layer of our homemade black currant jam and then a layer of black walnuts, wrapped the whole thing in a flake pastry and baked.

 The results....well let's just say the baked brie did not last more than ten minutes after it was pulled from the oven.

For the main course we decided to make a black walnut pesto which would be served with fresh fettuccine pasta.

To make the pesto we combined fresh garlic, black walnuts, basil and some of our home grown parsley. All this was thoroughly blended with a virgin olive oil (basically we traded in the pine nuts for the black walnuts). After adding a touch of salt, the whole thing was tossed into our freshly made pasta.

The girls did not make this last either. It turns out that we prefer this pesto to the conventional recipe. Pine nuts have a very subtle flavour whereas the black walnut really adds a new dimension to this traditional pasta sauce.

To end it all, Morgan was inventive now that she is studying baking at the Niagara College Food and Wine Institute. She created desert which consisted of small black walnut cakes. The cakes were layered chocolate and vanilla sponge with a chocolate/black walnut butter cream. Just a touch of black walnut in these cakes and we instantly knew what they were; the taste is so distinctive.

Once again, these certainly did not last long!

To finish off on the black walnut cooking this week, we did our last preserve "experiment" for the country store. We made what we hope will eventually become Ridge Berry Farm Black Walnut "Confiture de Lait".

In the meantime, work on the Victorian manor continued and this week it was time to work on the Mansard roof. 

This activity brought to light a heart breaking discovery. After peeling away at least four layers of asphalt shingles, we discovered the remnants of what was the original Victorian roof around a couple of the dormer windows.

It was heart breaking because of the damaged caused to them, not by time or the weather, but because of the newer roofing layers added over the years.

The original roof was actually made of cedar shingles. They were not only of a tapered thickness but also cut in different finished ends (flat, triangular and semi-circular). The original roofers had used these shapes to create a pattern along the roof line. The entire roof was then painted a burgundy red (similar to what would have been the colour of the barn).

At this point we had to decide whether to restore (at least the dormers) or to simply renovate the roof. We had to opt for the latter and cover everything with a new asphalt shingle. It turns out that the cost involved in restoration would have amounted to a small fortune (something which we do not have) since each cedar shingle would have to be hand cut and individually nailed. This was the "heart breaking" part.

As a consolation, we have been collecting any shingle taken from the roof as well as the old hand-made square nails. It is amazing how some of these have held up over 130 years; the cedar looks like it just came out of Home Depot.

Although, rain was the major obstacle to this week's work around the farm. A couple of bright days allowed us to follow up on a few things. 

When we first arrived here, we were thrilled to have our own (albeit wild) asparagus. We had never seen asparagus transform into ferns before. This week they surprised us by also producing berries. These beautiful plants now look like delicate miniature Christmas trees....and this is what we will sign off with this week.

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