This I Believe

Henry - Newark, Ohio
Entered on October 12, 2006

THIS I BELIEVE…….

I believe in cracking walnuts in the fall and winter.

We have huge Black Walnut trees in our yard in Ohio. Every October the walnuts fall and I gather them up. Fifty-five odd years ago, in the fall, my Dad would take me out to Elza Gate in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and we would pick up the walnuts under a giant tree. Elza Gate was on the northern side of the fenced-in city. Oak Ridge, in the Appalachia country of eastern Tennessee, was the city built to enrich uranium for The “A” bomb during World War II….and at the beginning of the Cold War was still shrouded in secrecy and protected from the outside world . Dad worked as an engineer at the enrichment plant. I guess gathering up walnuts was Dad’s way of getting out in the woods to see the beautiful fall color, but was probably also a leftover habit from the Depression Years in the south when no one wasted any food source. Dad and I would take the walnuts home to our “C” house on Nesper Road. All the houses for 25,000 people in Oak Ridge were built during the War in two years. They were designated as “A”, “B”, “C”, “D”, etc. Our “C” was a three bedroom, box house… typical WW II prefab.

Just like Dad and I did years ago, I take the walnuts behind the house and lay them out to let the outside hull get soft. In two or three weeks, the hulls get mushy and turn black. The hulls are easy to get off of the hard nut inside, but it is a messy job. I usually wear a pair of rubber gloves, sit out in the woods, compete with the squirrels to see which can get the hulls off quicker and enjoy the brisk autumn air. I put the nuts in pails for drying.

In Oak Ridge, we would let the hulls rot and Dad would just roll the nuts around with the heel of his work shoe to loosen the mush. I would peel some with my bare hands. The dark juice of the hull would stain my hands and it would take weeks for it to wear off. When the hulls were off, the walnuts would dry in a couple of weeks and be ready to crack. Dad and I would use a hammer and crack them. Black Walnuts have a very hard shell. It takes quite a blow to crack one. You have to have a touch…if you don’t hit it hard enough, it will take you forever to get the meat out….. and if you get impatient and hit it too hard, you smash the shell and meat. I would always hit my thumb and it would hurt like hell in the cold of December. As I danced around holding my throbbing thumb, Dad would say something smart, like, “…..you’re suppose to hit the nut, son, not your thumb” .

Black Walnuts are strong and rich and taste especially good when you crack them yourself. Dad would make fudge with the walnuts for Christmas. Mom would make my favorite German chocolate cake that would be covered in walnuts.

I sit on the garage steps in my 61st year with a walnut cracker and crack the walnuts ….and think about Dad and Oak Ridge and being 6 years old. That’s why I believe in cracking walnuts.