The harvest season isn’t over yet! While the fruit season is flagging, the nut season is flourishing. My neighbor has a hickory tree which has produced a small bushel of nuts. They say that hickory trees produce in cycles of three: a mast year, a middling year and an off year. This year, I regret to say, is the first year I have paid attention. Still, in 15 minutes yesterday morning, I picked five pounds of nuts, from just under half the canopy of the tree. I imagine if I go back later this week, there may be another five pounds. Next year I hope to check it out again and will begin to learn the patterns of this tree. (Though I understand that if this hickory tree has fruit there has to be another hickory tree nearby!)
I am gathering up the courage of my otherwise cautious self to be adventurous enough to taste the nutmeat to see if it is edible (i.e. the sweet kind, meaning the tree is probably a red hickory) or not edible (i.e. the bitter kind, meaning it is probably a pignut hickory).
But the very abundance of even this likely-middling crop stands as witness to our capacity to grow healthy, wholesome food right in our own neighborhoods. Some people don’t like fruit trees, worried as they are about the work and the mess and the need to clean up fallen fruit (though that fallen fruit makes wonderful compost – both for yourself and for your neighbors; and perhaps in the future, to sell). And some folks want big trees instead of the smaller, managed fruit trees saying that water and soil and air health are managed better and longer by big trees.
Nut trees speak to all these concerns. They are less work overall. They drop their fruit so no need to keep them small. Their nuts are easily swept up for harvesting or left right where they fall for squirrels (as opposed to other sorts of four-legged diners). They grow rather tall and they live a long time. Pecan (hickory is part of the pecan family), chestnuts, walnuts, almonds all grow well here in Baltimore.
As for us, there is great joy – and comfort – in an early morning foraging, crouching down beneath a nut tree, gathering food for family and friends amid the gentle cascade of nuts falling through the branches, beyond the leaves and onto the ground (or occasionally your head). It is a meditation of sorts, calling forth a mindfulness
Okay, so before I ended this blog I wanted to taste my hickory nuts. The first thing to report is, just like others say, it is a pain in the [..] to shell them. Which is why, no doubt, the Indians pounded them shell and all (after stripping off the outer husk) into a past. One site offers a secret to easily opening the nut (thanks to my friend Charlie Davis for this), but I don’t know how the fellow held the nut in place to strike it just right.
Nonetheless, I did manage to open one nut with only 4 or 5 whacks of my hammer – and extracted a piece of the teeny nut from inside (unlike the walnut which is more nut than shell, this hickory is more shell than nut). Now, unless my taste buds have been blunted from all the cinnamon tea I drink, this nut actually tasted rather sweet.
I figure, then, that between now and Thanksgiving, I can shell a good enough amount to make stuffing and pie and sundry side dishes with this nature’s bounty, courtesy of my neighbor.
Oh, I also saved some nuts and planted them around my yard. (I need to replace the 8 big trees BGE took down to secure our power supply. Not to worry. I planted them far enough away from the wires – which I hope will either be underground by the time they are full-grown; or perhaps gone in favor of an energy-absorbing roof, or paint, or driveway, or bicycle desk!)
I await the spring. Though how anything so small can break through that hefty shell is a mystery to me!