We live in town, and there's this massive tree on the corner hanging right over the stop sign. It's almost like clockwork that a car stops and a giant black walnut drops onto it. When you're in the car, the first thing that comes to mind is a gunshot, but, once you look around at all the "misses" on the road, you realize what happened and start cursing.
But sometimes nature is just trying to hit you over the head with something you've been ignoring. We suddenly learned to love what that shocking impact indicates when we visited Grimo Nut Nursery last year, and learned a whole lot about nuts, especially local nuts. Now, with that knowledge, it's hard to ignore that loud sound and wonder what it tastes like on the inside.
On one of my first visits to Jesse's parents' farm, Jesse's mom, Jane, was very excited to take me for a long walk to show me her favourite tree on the property–the Shagbark Hickory. Jane first noticed the tree, with it's long and loose strips of bark, during a walk on the farm in the late eighties. Ever since, it's been a farm landmark.
But it gained new attention this past winter when Jesse was doing some reading on Slow Food USA's website. Slow Food, the forerunner of the locavore movement, has a section on their site called the Ark of Taste. It's where they list regionally important foods, with an emphasis on taste, that could be at risk of being lost. Think of it as an endangered species list for food.
There, under a section labeled "Nuts", was Shagbark Hickory along with lots of motivating descriptions. We've been impatiently visiting the tree since, and now, finally is its time.
Shagbark Hickory is related to the pecan, but many say it has better flavour and can be used in the place of walnuts and pecans. So why don't we all have a jar of hickory nuts in our cupboards? The main issue with hickory nuts is the difficulty in cracking them industrially while keeping the meat intact. Of course this is an issue in our industrially-minded world.
It's funny that in our personal attempt to get away from the industrial supermarket, we finally noticed something incredible, something new to us, that was growing right under our noses for over twenty years.
Keep an eye out for some shaggy bark this fall, and if you see a Shagbark, pull the car over and husk a few dozen nuts. Let them dry out for a few weeks and then see if you can hit the bullseye to get them opened cleanly. The flavour is addictive, and cracking them while keeping the meat intact is, quite possibly, even more addictive.