Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Urban Farmer

I grew up in the country outside Nashville.  My folks had a large garden where we grew corn, potatoes, green beans, October beans, lima beans, squash, zucchini, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers and, some years, watermelons.  It was a large garden.  It was hard work, mostly for my parents who both had full-time jobs, but my brother and I had to help out.
We moved to that property when I was ten years old.  My parents had bought eleven acres from my Great Aunt Josie years before.  When my father retired from the army, they cleared out the old rundown farmhouse and landscaping and built a sprawling ranch house, planted trees, rhododendrons, and flowers, and started a big, wonderful garden.  In the early years of the garden, my brother and I were sent out with coffee cans to pick up rocks that turned up, endlessly it seemed, in the tilling.  We were put on weed pulling duty, too.  Johnson grass was our nemesis.  We also helped with the picking and “putting up.”  Which means we strung and broke up green beans, husked corn, and shelled lima beans until our thumbs were sore.  There was one job I could never do, though, and that was to pull the hornworms off the tomato plants.  Ewww!

My dad and daughter in the garden in early summer 1993
Growing up, I didn’t realize what a treasure it was to have a bountiful garden and really fresh produce.  Lots of people we knew had big gardens.  In late summer, for example, my aunt’s glasses would be speckled with corn “milk” from cutting corn off the cob in preparation for freezing.  For years now, ever since my parents moved into a senior condo, I’ve missed that garden.  The home canned tomatoes, the corn frozen on the day it was picked.  I try in my little yard to recreate what I can of that life.  I grow a few pots of tomatoes and herbs.  But, of course, it’s not at all the same.

The one thing I do have which is just like “home,” is walnuts.  Lots and lots of black walnuts.  My parents’ yard had an enormous, perfectly shaped, fabulous old walnut tree down by the road.  Kids would stop and rest under it as they walked back from the little market up the way.  In December, people would surreptitiously knock out the mistletoe that grew high up the branches.  It produced lots of walnuts.  My dad says he remembers one year hauling seven heaping wheelbarrows of walnuts down to the woods to dump.  We did mostly just dump our walnuts in the woods.  But some years, my brother and I would get a hammer, crack open some nuts and pry out the meat with a nail.

One of our walnut trees
Here at our house, we have five walnut trees around our yard.  Which is why I can’t really grow anything else, and have to grow my tomatoes in pots.  This year we have a bumper crop of walnuts, so I decided to harvest some.  Last time the daughter was home, we donned latex medical gloves and started husking.  (When we finished, we realized that the gloves leaked.  We now had badly stained fingertips and nails.  Not attractive.  And virtually impossible to remove.  After sugar scrubs, salt scrubs, orange goop, fingernail polish remover, hydrogen peroxide and a pumice stone, I still have some discoloration ten days later.)

Next we washed the nuts off a few times and set the pan out in the sun.  I covered the pan with a window screen to keep the squirrels from stealing our bounty.  That evening, I brought the pan in and left it on our enclosed back porch for nine days.  I should probably have waited longer, but I am not always a good waiter.  

Yesterday I got cracking.  After literally hours of cracking and picking out, I had four cups of nutmeats.  I felt like a real hunter/gatherer.  Well, at least a gatherer.  The nuts are so fragrant!  I plan to make a black walnut cake.  I’ll let you know if it turns out.


  1. This is really interesting! I've never seen a walnut tree. Are walnuts inside those green things? To have fresh walnuts would be awesome! If I had my dream yard I'd have an orange tree, a walnut tree, and a lemon tree. Not likely here in Indiana!

  2. Sher,
    Yes, the green/brown outer husk comes off (that's what stains your hands), and you're left with the brown shells, which you can see in the pan next to my bowl and gloves. Some of those are still kind of greenish. Like I said, I'm not too patient! I think some people let them cure 3-4 weeks before cracking them. I just couldn't wait that long!

  3. I've always wanted to go to Nashville!


Thank you for leaving a comment.