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— The walnuts are coming down! Several weeks ago I found that before I could mow the lawns I customarily mow, I had to pick up walnuts first. My neighbor, Pauline Foster, has a large walnut tree behind her house which produces very large walnuts. When the mower runs over one of those, the whack when the blades hit the walnut sounds like the mower is clashing with a rock. So, to save being startled, and to save mower blades, I pick up walnuts before mowing.

Picking up walnuts hasn’t changed that much since I was a boy, although our reasons for picking up walnuts may be a little different. We used to have quite a few walnut trees on the farm where I grew up.

There were a few around the house, but most were off in the woods, especially agrove standing on the back side of our bottomland field across Otter Creek from the house. Our family mostly picked up the walnuts for our own use, but when there were lots of walnuts we picked them up to take to market to make a little spending money. My wife Nancy remembers that she and her sisters and cousins used to pick up walnuts to sell to get money for school shoes and school supplies.

In those days the walnut buyers were in Rogers, near the railroad, between First Street and Arkansas Street across the tracks from the railroad depot.

These days, we are kind of up-town with the walnut business because Fred and Doug McKinney are hulling and buying walnuts right here at Pea Ridge. The price this year may not be as good as we could wish, but one can still make a bit of spending money. If you take in several good sized bags of walnuts, you might still make enough for a pair of school shoes, like in the old days!

At home, we used to hull and crack many of our walnuts ourselves. Since we didn’t have a mechanical power huller, we had to resort to other hulling methods. We often poured our walnuts onto the driveway where the car and the tractor would run over them for several days. That would knock the hulls off most of them. If that didn’t work, at our farm shop we had aheavy steel block which had in it a couple of holes that were just right for hulling walnuts. If you hammered a walnut through one of those holes, it almost always came out with the hull removed.

Of course that method was tedious, so we always depended on the car wheels knocking off the hulls on the driveway as much as possible. One mark of working in the walnuts was that your hands were soon stained a shade of yellow, amber or brown.

Since we frequently bought feed for cattle, we always had bunches of burlap feed bags around our place.

We used those to bag up the walnuts, whether they were going to market, or to be used at home. For us, cracking the walnut shells and picking out the “goodies” was a pretty time-consuming and toilsome task. Wedidn’t ever have any special nut cracker for that job.

Our walnut cracker was a claw hammer and that steel block at the shop. We also used that steel block as you would an anvil. It was our regular hammering block, since we didn’t have a real anvil. We used the block for such hammering jobs as removing rivets and changing mower sickle blades, flattening the new rivets to hold the blades in place, and all kinds of other heavy hammering jobs. Walnut cracking is not such a heavy hammering job, but it calls for some deft and exacting hammering. If you hit too hard, you will probably smash not only the walnut shell but the goodies inside and maybe your finger as well. If you hit too lightly, you accomplish nothing.

You try to hit hard enough to crack the shell prettywell, but not so hard as to smash it.

For actually picking out the goodies, we usually had a good boughten nut pick set, which did a good job of digging out the “goodies.” Lots of walnuts at our house got eaten straight. In fact, sitting around picking out walnuts usually was a time for eating at least half of what was picked out.

But we usually left enough for making some delicious fudge candy with walnuts, or some cookies with walnuts baked in, or a cake with walnuts in the recipe.

My brothers and I even used green walnuts to practice baseball pitching. We didn’t always have a real baseball, so we improvised.

Batting a green walnut doesn’t work too well.

Contact Jerry Nichols by e-mail at joe369@centurytel. net, or call 621-1621.

Community, Pages 5 on 11/04/2009

Print Headline: Now & Then Picking up walnuts for school supply money and to eat

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