What a nutty time of year, literally! Chestnuts and black walnuts, two of my favorite nuts, were raining down, figuratively, just before the middle of the month.
Black walnuts are free for the taking. Wild trees are everywhere around here, and keep increasing because of overlooked nuts buried by squirrels. The nuts are so abundant this year, and most years, that squirrels and humans can have their fill. (Not so with my filbert nuts; squirrels will strip those bushes clean.)
Black walnuts have a strong flavor. Like dark beer, fresh blackcurrants, and okra, not everyone likes the flavor. That’s fine. Fast food chains might purvey foods that everyone sort of likes, while a home gardener and gatherer can grow and gather fruits and vegetable and nuts that he or she really, really likes, and ignore what he or she really, really does not like.
The chestnuts are big and fat and tasty — obviously not American chestnuts. I harvest so many chestnuts, also big and fat, each year from my Colossal variety trees that I never bothered to look beneath my Marigoule trees. Marigoule is planted further from my house than Colossal.
American chestnuts, Castanea dentata, are small but very tasty, or so I have read and heard. I’ve never tasted one. The trees were devastated by a blight throughout the early 20th century. Previous to blight, the trees were so numerous in our eastern forests that it was said that a squirrel leaping from one chestnut branch to another could travel from Maine to Georgia without touching the ground. Something like 40 billion trees died to the ground. But roots survive, sprouting new shoots each year to provide a host to keep the blight fungus …
Popcorn & Chestnuts, Bigger is Better But Not Always
Orville Redenbacker’s popcorn may be an “exclusive kernel hybrid that pops up lighter and fluffier than ordinary popcorn,” but my popcorn — nonhybrids whose seeds I’ve saved for many years — tastes better. I grow two varieties, Pink Pearl and Pennsylvania Dutch Butter Flavored Popcorn. This winter my popcorns’ poppability was especially poor, probably because of the weather. Really! Popcorn pops when the small amount of water within each kernel, heated above the boiling point, builds up enough pressure to explode the kernel, turning it inside out. For good popping, a kernel needs an intact hull and moisture within. Not just any amount of moisture, though, but as close as possible to 13.5%. (Other whole grains, such as wheat berries and rice, don’t pop with the same explosive force as popcorn because their hulls are porous.) My popcorn spends winter, …
The problem with popcorn is that it “don’t get no respect.” Sure, it’s a fun food, nice to toss into your mouth while you watch a movie. But that’s been the case only since the 1930s.
Popcorn is a grain, a whole grain, as good a source of nourishment as wheat, rice, rye, or any other grain. Popcorn was among the foods brought by native Americans to the first Thanksgiving dinner. For anyone who likes the idea of raising their own grain, popcorn is a good choice. It’s easy to grow, it’s easy to process, and it’s easy to save seed from one year to the next. I grow two varieties — Pink Pearl and Dutch Butter-flavored — and have saved seed from my plantings for over 20 years.
Every year I plant two beds of popcorn, each bed 10 feet long by 3 feet wide. Growing popcorn is …
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—————————————– It’s been awhile since the grains have been harvested so it’s time to prepare them for consumption. Longest in preparation will be barley.
The barley is from last year’s harvest, and the grain-laden stalks have been bundled together and hanging from a kitchen rafter since then. I’ve procrastinated processing because of last year’s frustrations in trying to thresh wheat, also grown last year; the grains clung tenaciously to their stalks and no amount of battering would thoroughly separate them. I’ve also procrastinated because the bundle of barley’s tawny brown stems, with long, delicate, spiky awns emerging from the heads, look so decorative dangling upside down near the kitchen ceiling.
“Cure” is a funny sort of word. It means, on the one hand, to relieve from illness, and, on the other hand, to subject to some sort of preservative process. (And, on yet another hand, a few other things.)
The chestnut variety ‘Colossal’
Which brings me to my chestnuts . . . no, they’re not diseased, but they do need to be cured. We chestnut growers face two opposing goals with our harvested nuts: Good storage versus good eating. A freshly fallen chestnut is rich in starch and moisture and, because it is alive, it’s able to fight off mold and store well if kept near freezing temperatures. But it doesn’t taste good. For best eating, the nuts need to cure, a process whereby some moisture is lost and some of the starch changes to sugars, dramatically improving flavor. But cured nuts …