The walnuts have started raining down upon us, which means that it truly now is fall. We are having a bumper crop this year in the neighborhood. My amazing neighbor Monica has 5 acres of walnuts and you wouldn't even believe how many 10-gallon buckets she has harvested, given away, etc. People are actually coming from all around just to pick up all of the walnuts in her yard. Three varieties, and here's how much I know: one kind is "round", one kind is "very small", and the third kind looks a lot like a small brain. In our back yard we have one wonderful English walnut tree. It's the one right out the back door...the one that Max and I guard with vigor all year for these moments (see Pappas Clan vs Squirrels on 8/15/08 for that story). As soon as the nights drop down to about freezing, the walnuts begin dropping, and each morning I go out and collect them. The first couple of days, I could hold them in my hands, but for the past week I've had to use a 4-gallon bucket, or the large basket pictured above, because there are so many. My master gardener neighbors tell me that we are getting so many walnuts because it was so rainy last winter, but I have been pretending to be Annie Oakley since I was a child, so I like to think that some of our bumper crop is because of my sharp-shooting abilities with the squirrels.
The walnuts must then be shelled, which, I have discovered, is a good thing to do while you are watching Steelers games on television, and stored, which I do in 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bags, of which I am currently on my fifth. Wow, it is a good year for nuts!
Here are some of the things I do with walnuts:
Roast them with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon to use in salads, pumpkin bread, cinnamon bread, all kinds of bread, muffins, or to eat by the handful.
Pasta with roasted broccoli and walnuts (recipe from realsimple.com - note: any magazine called "Real Simple" is my kind of magazine!)
Make candied walnuts to give away as Christmas gifts (there's a good recipe at allrecipes.com)
At our house, walnuts can also be used as tiny dog treats, and as a treat that can lure 5 unruly chickens back into the coop - the girls will come running from all over the yard if they hear me cracking a walnut shell. That's how we entertain ourselves in the neighborhood.