Whitesburg KY

Walnuts were important

Now is the time of year when we can sit in the old rocking chair and just let our thoughts wonder leisurely back through the years.

We can remember times of long ago when we could sit in front of the fire, crack walnuts and throw the leftovers into the fire and smell the aroma of the burning hulls. A walnut was a very important part of the season. It added just the right taste to a homemade cookie or cake. They required a little work, sometimes a little expertise in cracking them just right without getting mashed fingers in the process.

The white walnut — or butternut as some people called them — was always my favorite kind. They have about all died out now, at least in these parts. I don’t reckon I ever saw a butternut tree of either size or shape needed to make lumber from it. Mixed with some wood alcohol, the sap from black walnut hulls made pretty good wood stain.

Beechnuts are another of my favorite nuts. Even as a kid I don’t believe I ever did get my belly full of them. I would sit on a big rock and open and eat them till my behind got numb and still not get my fill. I don’t believe I ever heard of anyone with enough beechnuts to make a cake or cookies.

Hazelnuts or chickpeas make for some good eating also, but like the white walnut they are hard to come by, partly because they are a lot harder to locate. They only grow on small shrubs and not trees.

Another pastime was to pop corn over an open fire. It really made a house smell good. Most people back then grew their own corn for popping, but it had to be dried out just right or it wouldn’t pop worth a nickel.

For those with good teeth, parched corn was a delicacy. It had a flavor all its own. Maybe we inherited that trait from our Native American ancestors. Corn and maize were two of their main staples, partly because it would keep for long periods of time and occupied little space while on a journey.

I would venture to say that the American chestnut played an important role also in their very survival. Fruit and berries could be had in season but they had no way to preserve them for any length of time. I can only imagine what a thrill it must have been to go to the woods and collect a sack of de-burred chestnuts. I have heard some old timers talk about stepping on chestnut burrs with their bare feet to open them. I guess we kids could have done it too since we always picked berries barefoot, but since I have become a tenderfoot, picking berries barefoot seems like a mighty poor idea.

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