One of the best things about living in France is… walnuts. Our village has walnut trees dotted all about, and in fact has been written up about it (even in a wine book of all places). In autumn, when we take our dog for his walks we are always finding walnuts underfoot. I have gotten in the habit of carrying a bag or basket with me to make the most of foraged treats.
How Does Your Garden Grow
A criteria for me when we were looking for a house was a large garden, room for our animals to roam and space to grow some vegetables. An orchard of some sort would be a definite bonus. We found our place, complete with long 3 sectioned garden. It even came with an already in situ veg patch. But no orchard. At least that’s what I thought.
The garden was terribly overgrown. Except for some weedy open areas, everything else was being killed off by vines and creepers. Even before we moved in we started clearing, cutting and pulling. As the garden emerged, so did our finds – old foundations, buried steps and… a walnut tree.
How Does your Walnut Grow
As autumn takes hold, so do the walnuts ripen. First they appear as green golf balls in the trees. The green shell encases the hardening walnut shell, which in turn safeguards the nut. As days grow cooler the green shell blackens and splits showing off the walnut within that we are familiar with. It is at this stage they are ready to be collected.
Like apples, the walnuts fall to the ground if not picked. Sometimes the blackened skin clings to the shell, but more often you will see these round, almost wooden looking, shells littering the ground. It’s time to collect and take home to the kitchen.
When a Walnut is ready
Remove any blackened soft shell. If the hard walnut shell is damp, set it on a baking cooling rack in a dry place until it dries out. Once dry, they can be stored where you like. I generally keep a selection in a wicker basket on the table in the lounge along with a nut cracker ready for anyone to have the odd munch.
But life is so much more than a bowl of walnuts, and I always collect far more than a single basket. The rest of my hoard I shell. It has become a daily treat to take a basket of nuts out to the ducks and shell them amongst their playful chatter.
I use a rubber mallet to crack them open, setting them on a hard surface and giving them a good whack. The shell cracks or breaks and I work to get the exposed nuts out, which get stored in a jar. Now and then one comes across a nut that is blackened or shrivelled. Like apples gone over ripe, these are not for eating and I toss them into the grass or hedges for the birds. Waste not and all that.
There’s More to a Nut
We eat a lot of walnuts, year round. So my aim each year is to collect enough to set us up in nuts for the whole year. (We are talking baskets and baskets!) It may surprise people how many walnuts we get through, and possibly you wonder why.
We don’t just eat walnuts like one would eat, say, peanuts, munching on them when one wants a simple snack. I personally love, love, love to cook with them. They add a certain ‘meatiness’ to a vegetarian dish (if one is allowed to say that). They also go particularly well with meats. The flavour of a walnut is simply a wonderful accompaniment to almost any dish. In fact, I can’t think of anything it wouldn’t go with as it supports both sweet and savoury flavours. (I am thinking of a recipe for walnut ice cream as I type this… such possibilities!)
What to Do with Walnuts
My own go to recipe, particularly at this time of year, is sautéed broccoli and walnuts. It’s so simple, healthy, quick and of course delicious.
- head of broccoli (chopped into golf ball size or smaller pieces),
- small onion (peeled, cut in half, and sliced into thin pieces),
- small handful of walnuts (chopped into small ish pieces),
- salt (to taste),
Heat the oil in a frying pan on medium to high heat. Add in your onions. Give them a swirl in the oil until coated and starting to soften. Add in the broccoli and sauté until al dente. You might want to add a little more oil once the broccoli is in the pan so it doesn’t burn (although I like a little bit of charring here and there). Toss in the walnuts and give a stir a few times to mix in and warm up. A pinch of salt mixed in and you are good to serve. Takes about 10 minutes all together.
And if you are stuck with what to do with those pesky broccoli stems, don’t despair. Try making this delicious broccoli stem and walnut pesto. A real favourite in our house.
Still More Walnuts
And there is so, so, so much more one can do with walnuts. A long time favourite of mine is Walnut Wellington. This is a vegetarian version of a Beef Wellington, but I think is even better. (I personally substitute dry sherry for the red wine in this one.) Continuing on the vegetarian theme – try Stuffed Aubergine with Walnuts and Roquefort or Spinach Stilton quiche with walnut pastry.
And for those who like their meat, use walnuts to make a crust for a roast beef, or try a Chinese chicken stirfry. I personally love walnuts with pork. They just work so well together. My go to recipe is Cheesy Pork Steaks. Simply delicious.
And lest we forget dessert, there is always the classic Walnut Coffee Cake.
Now I am off in search of more walnuts. All this talk of food has made me hungry.