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Unexpected Delight at Green City Market

Unexpected Delight at Green City Market
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  • Unexpected Delight at Green City Market

    Post #1 - November 16th, 2006, 11:21 pm
    Post #1 - November 16th, 2006, 11:21 pm Post #1 - November 16th, 2006, 11:21 pm
    Schwa's quail egg ravioli napped with white truffle oil sent me into orbit about this time last year. But eventually, I fell to Earth and began to wonder whether anything I would eat this year could surprise and delight me in precisely the same way as that dish. (I admit that I was beginning to get a little worried.) But yesterday, at the Green City Market, I experienced a sensation that ranks right up there with the one evoked by Chef Carlson's signature dish. The really miraculous thing is that this delight was straight from nature, raw and unadorned. It was my first taste of black walnut.

    How can I describe it? The bouquet is reminiscent of a fine armagnac, without the pungent smell of alcohol. The woman who was selling them offered me a taste and opened a tupperware of the shelled nuts. As air escaped from the container, I was astounded to smell a cloud of what might be described as walnut perfume. I was instantly intoxicated. The farmer laughed, because she saw me swoon. She told me how she had looked for seven years for a piece of land with black walnut trees, and finally had found it near Galena. It was something I could understand completely, based on a single taste. Shame on me, I didn't write down this lovely woman's name, but I can understand her passion.
    Man : I can't understand how a poet like you can eat that stuff.
    T. S. Eliot: Ah, but you're not a poet.
  • Post #2 - November 17th, 2006, 12:01 am
    Post #2 - November 17th, 2006, 12:01 am Post #2 - November 17th, 2006, 12:01 am
    Josephine,

    Well, that sounds like a worthwhile experience. You bought some, I'd assume, though with a flavor that intense it might be hard to find a recipe that would do it justice...or have you?

    Hammond
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
  • Post #3 - November 17th, 2006, 8:15 am
    Post #3 - November 17th, 2006, 8:15 am Post #3 - November 17th, 2006, 8:15 am
    I really love black walnuts. Now, I have come to realize that the mear "localness" of a product has overwhelmingly influenced my taste buds--you know that happens when you start thinking of cheese spread as a gourment product :wink: . So, I especially adore black walnuts as our nut so to speak. That said, they are truly special, sweet and very winey tasting.

    Now, that said, and I don't know if Josephine had to deal with this, but there is a BIG problem with black walnuts, and one that has certainly limited their overall use. They are near impossible to get at. Don't even try with a nut cracker or vice grip pliers. A good bolt cutter may do but the best way is to whack away with a hammer. Yet, even cracking the shells is not enough. The nuggets are tightly wound into the interior of the beasts. Extracting them always reminds me of the Cesarian birth of my first daughter--I could not believe how hard the doc has to pull to get the baby out.

    I keep on meaning to get to the fall/winter Green City Market. I am interested what else they have. I know my good friend Farmer Vicki has a wide supply of produce. Earlier in the fall, Oriana, the papple lady, that I blogged about, and later got a nice write-up in the Reader, sold black walnuts. I don't know if she still does.
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #4 - November 17th, 2006, 9:22 am
    Post #4 - November 17th, 2006, 9:22 am Post #4 - November 17th, 2006, 9:22 am
    HI,

    Black walnuts are not only a pain extract, they are not welcome near where anyone wants a vegetable garden. Tomatoes and other plants do not grow within 75 feet or so of established black walnut trees. Black walnut tree's root systems release a toxin, which doesn't allow these plants to thrive.

    Black walnuts collected presently cannot be shelled until January or February. You're supposed to wait until you can hear the nut rattingly around inside, then as VI stated earlier you have to work hard to extract it.

    I have a friend who has forest land, she has been actively planting black walnut trees. It may be years though before we have any crop to talk about.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
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  • Post #5 - November 17th, 2006, 9:59 am
    Post #5 - November 17th, 2006, 9:59 am Post #5 - November 17th, 2006, 9:59 am
    Don't forget that you can get your black walnut fix in the form of caramels at Dan's Candy in Joliet.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #6 - November 17th, 2006, 11:11 am
    Post #6 - November 17th, 2006, 11:11 am Post #6 - November 17th, 2006, 11:11 am
    There are littlerally thousands of black walnut trees in McHenry county and they dominate the local forest preserves.

    Having said that, black walnuts are a PITA to deal with. Generally, you collect them, place them in a cool storage place until the hulls dry out. that takes a couple of months. Then you get that off the hard inner shells. Then, you have to crack them open, which is NO easy task and pick out the nutmeat.

    As kids, that was part of our responsibilities (read we were free labor) and it was NOT something we enjoyed. We would MUCH prefer hickory nuts which were much easier to shell. (and to pick).

    By the way, if you do deal with black walnuts in the green state, don't get any of the juice in your eyes as it burns pretty bad. (speaking from experience).
  • Post #7 - November 17th, 2006, 12:04 pm
    Post #7 - November 17th, 2006, 12:04 pm Post #7 - November 17th, 2006, 12:04 pm
    Josephine wrote: It was my first taste of black walnut.


    While it may have been your first taste of a black walnut unadorned, I seriously doubt that it was your first taste of black walnut. Josephine, you are far too adventurous for me to believe that claim. It sounds a bit like my uncle's claim that he never ate an olive.

    Black Walnut (juglone nigra) trees are not that difficult to find as they are indigenous to this part of the United States. The problem is the mess and the difficulty in harvest. What I find somewhat surprising is the walnut meats being sold at a farmer's market. Home harvesting of black walnuts is quite labor intensive. Generally, the nuts are collected and brought to a processor.

    As pointed out earlier in the thread, the nuts have to be cured (the accepted term). First the nuts have a green hull which becomes black and leathery as it decomposes. My first aside is the many uses that Native Americans and and even my relatives had for the tree also known as the American Black Walnut. The stains to your skin are indelible, I am old enough to have seen hair dye and wood finish made from the "fruit juice." I knew of the uses of Juglone, the toxin that is extracted, but I do not recall it being used…at least not home use. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juglone

    The hulls need to be removed to allow the nuts to cure. I remember tagging along with my granfather when he took bushels of walnuts to a farmer that had an antique corn sheller that could remove the hulls without having to get your hands dirty.

    I found this from the Univeristy of Minnesota:

    If you are hulling a large quantity of nuts, the slurry can be used in a small portable cement mixer. An old-fashioned corn sheller will also be useful in hulling black walnuts.

    The curing is also somewhat labor intensive as the nuts are subject to mold and rot. Then comes the fun part. As mentioned earlier, there is no easy way to get at the meat. Of course, if you ever ate a handful of large beautiful walnuts, you were eating English Walnuts. The only commercial extraction involves soaking, freezing and crushing.

    Because the meat is cut to extract it from the shell, large or "fancy" pieces look much like the broken, cut or less than fancy grades of other nuts. Black walnut flour, however, is used in many commercial baked goods, as is the extracted flavor.


    In my very small hometown in Wisconsin, we used to bring the nuts to Flick Plekienpol. Flick was a hobbyiest wood carver. He would take all of the nuts to the bandsaw and make items like black walnut shell crosses, nativity scenes, clocks, etc. Black Walnut shells are also used in dynamite and as a specialized grit for "sandblasting" certain materials on which sand would be too abrasive.


    If you want the nuts and bolts of black walnuts check out the Virginia Tech fact sheet.

    The folks at Hammon's have a few recipes check them out here: http://www.black-walnuts.com/ Search through to professional uses. I have always thought of black walnuts as a way to deepen flavors, sort of the anchovie of the midwest. I see Hammon's has a recipe for compound butter which I may make this weekend.

    I suppose the Black Walnut will never have the consumer appeal that the English Walnut has attained. However, I buy them when I see them. I believe the last bag I bought was from Trader Joes....they keep for up to two years in the freezer, and as I am sure you have gathered a little goes a long way.

    Because of the sharp biting flavor of well cured meats, they are the perfect foil for cloyingly sweet desserts. What I would not give to try a black walnut baklava. However if I were to give you what would be for me the "quail egg ravioli standard", I would have to go back in time to a Sunday afternoon in January say early 70's.

    We would be sitting around the dining room table and relaxing, when finally my father would ask "well are you big enough to swing an axe this year". He would always ask, but I don't recall him ever providing the opportunity. We would head to the "lake." Actually, to where the creek near our Lake Michigan cabin property fed into the lake and chop some ice to be put in burlap bags and toted home. At home the ice was brought down to the basement near the floor drain, where the ice cream make sat. I am not quite so old to have had a handcrank, but our maker was old enough that if you touched it in the wrong place while standing in the salt brine you got a poke, probably not UL approved :roll: .

    Anyway, while we were chopping ice my mother would have prepared the "batter" with fresh cream that Pops picked up at the cheesefactory on Saturday (the Cheesefactory, along with everything else was closed on Sundays....which is why we were at home spending time with the family in the first place). Anyway, after what seemed like an interminably long time of feeding layers of ice and salt into the maker, the motor on top began to wheeze and moan letting you know the batter was truning into ice cream. Of course there was the traditional sqabbling of who would get to lick the paddles. However, soon we were all settle down to a bowl of fresh homemade ice cream.

    Lorain, my grandfathers "ladyfriend", who later became my step-grandmother, said the ice cream was just a bit too sweet for her. TOO SWEET?? Who was this intruder (she had been distant cousin and a friend of the family long before my grandmother passed away)? "Well, we have some black walnuts" my mother retorted. My mother tossed about a cupful into a skillet along with a big chunk of butter and salt...lots of salt. You could hear the freshly toasted nuts sizzle as they burned little crater into the freshly aerated frozen custard.

    Its one of my earliest complex taste and texture patterns that I can remember. Fresh homemade ice cream with a velvety mouthfeel of milkfat and rich vanilla sugar set sharply against the hot crunch of salty, biting, just to this side of bitter, roasted black walnuts. Arrrraaaagggggghhhh.

    Now for the soapbox, have some black walnuts in your Thanksgiving meal…particularly, if you find pecan pie too cloyingly sweet, try adding half black walnuts. I like to serve Zinfandel on Thanksgiving as it the nearest to a noble grape that is indigenous, the same can be said for removing the English Walnuts and replacing them with good old fashion flag-waving American Walnuts
    Last edited by pdaane on November 17th, 2006, 1:36 pm, edited 4 times in total.
    Unchain your lunch money!
  • Post #8 - November 17th, 2006, 12:06 pm
    Post #8 - November 17th, 2006, 12:06 pm Post #8 - November 17th, 2006, 12:06 pm
    Speaking of local nuts (ahem), every fall I steal a few moments to walk through the local preserves hoping to find some shagbark hickory nuts. I've never had any success. How 'bout you?

    -ramon
  • Post #9 - November 17th, 2006, 12:21 pm
    Post #9 - November 17th, 2006, 12:21 pm Post #9 - November 17th, 2006, 12:21 pm
    pdaane,

    What an essay on the black walnut! Thank you for an interesting post.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #10 - November 17th, 2006, 1:33 pm
    Post #10 - November 17th, 2006, 1:33 pm Post #10 - November 17th, 2006, 1:33 pm
    pdaane wrote:In my very small hometown in Wisconsin, we used to bring the nuts to Flick Plekienpol.


    If I didn't know you better, I'd say you were making this up.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #11 - November 17th, 2006, 1:43 pm
    Post #11 - November 17th, 2006, 1:43 pm Post #11 - November 17th, 2006, 1:43 pm
    Oh yes, there is a completely decadent dip that my buddy likes to make with pecans. It consists of equal parts blue cheese, butter, heavy cream and roasted pecans. It is far too rich, but by adding black walnuts...it bites back.
    Unchain your lunch money!
  • Post #12 - November 17th, 2006, 1:47 pm
    Post #12 - November 17th, 2006, 1:47 pm Post #12 - November 17th, 2006, 1:47 pm
    Vital Information wrote:
    Now, that said, and I don't know if Josephine had to deal with this, but there is a BIG problem with black walnuts, and one that has certainly limited their overall use. They are near impossible to get at. Don't even try with a nut cracker or vice grip pliers. A good bolt cutter may do but the best way is to whack away with a hammer. Yet, even cracking the shells is not enough. The nuggets are tightly wound into the interior of the beasts. Extracting them always reminds me of the Cesarian birth of my first daughter--I could not believe how hard the doc has to pull to get the baby out.

    I keep on meaning to get to the fall/winter Green City Market. I am interested what else they have. I know my good friend Farmer Vicki has a wide supply of produce. Earlier in the fall, Oriana, the papple lady, that I blogged about, and later got a nice write-up in the Reader, sold black walnuts. I don't know if she still does.


    Oriana does in fact still have black walnuts, and I'm betting that's who Josephine got hers from. She also sells a heavy steel table-mounted nutcracker on behalf of the Missouri blacksmith who patented and forged it. It's ideal for black walnuts.
  • Post #13 - December 22nd, 2006, 10:36 pm
    Post #13 - December 22nd, 2006, 10:36 pm Post #13 - December 22nd, 2006, 10:36 pm
    So I bought some of the black walnuts at GCM week before last, and I want to use them in some kind of dessert.

    Question is, what? Would steeping them in creme brulee or a chocolate pot release their marvelous flavors... or just ruin perfectly good cream and chocolate?

    Any suggestions?
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  • Post #14 - December 22nd, 2006, 11:49 pm
    Post #14 - December 22nd, 2006, 11:49 pm Post #14 - December 22nd, 2006, 11:49 pm
    Four suggestions from a life-long black walnut lover:

    1) If you're feeling brave (and have a Kitchenaid mixer, or the equivalent), make a batch of divinity, and add some.

    2) If you like meringues, go to the Everyday Food website, search "Chocolate Chip Meringue Kisses," and sub black walnuts fo the chocolate chips. I'd add about 1 1/2 cups or so. So easy, and really impressive-looking.

    3) Make a white chocolate fudge, and add black walnuts and dried cherries. I use the standard cheater fudge with Fluff, and just sub good white chocolate by weight for a bag of chocolate chips.

    4) Use your favorite standard nut-bread recipe - Fannie Farmer, Joy of Cooking, etc. - and sub black walnuts for English walnuts or pecans.

    I wouldn't steep them, personally - too tannin-y.


    Have fun!
  • Post #15 - December 24th, 2006, 10:53 am
    Post #15 - December 24th, 2006, 10:53 am Post #15 - December 24th, 2006, 10:53 am
    Mike,

    I don't personaly bake much...however, Sundevilpeg's suggestions seem spot on. The black walnut flavor is complex with a nice bitter note, adding it to chocolate seems a clash.

    Happy to come over and help you and the boyz taste test that divinity 8)

    pd
    Unchain your lunch money!
  • Post #16 - December 24th, 2006, 11:53 pm
    Post #16 - December 24th, 2006, 11:53 pm Post #16 - December 24th, 2006, 11:53 pm
    Thanks, pdaane. You're are spot-on, yourself; the flavor of the black walnut is a strong and distinctive thing, best used with a neutral backdrop. The subtle sweetness of dried cherries is a good foil for them in the fudge, though.

    I got hooked on them decades ago, BTW, when I first tasted Fanny May's black walnut nougats. OMG. They were covered with dark chocolate, but the walknut was the only flavoring in the nougat, and they were fabulous. FM discontinued them a number of years ago, as black walnuts are expensive, and appeal to a relatively limited market, alas. Such is life. :?
  • Post #17 - December 25th, 2006, 11:43 am
    Post #17 - December 25th, 2006, 11:43 am Post #17 - December 25th, 2006, 11:43 am
    We had both black walnuts and shagbark hickory on my vineyard in Lone Jack MO. My partner was an old Missourian, and he did have his ways. Hulling the black walnuts, once the green 'shell' had dried out a bit, was easy enough: we put the nuts down on the drive and drove the John Deere back and forth over the nuts!

    After that it was a 12-lb hand sledge. : )

    Across the street from my place in KC is a fine old black walnut. The squirrels distribute the nuts everywhere, including my garden. As C2 noted, the garden is NOT where one wants black walnuts, even seedlings, to be growing!


    Substituting some black for English walnut bits in fudge is an old and worthy ploy.

    BTW, Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays, and a wonderful New Year to one and all! The Other Dr. Gale and I are stopping over at her folks' place in Long Island, on our way to Montreal. I'll be posting from there for the next 6 monts, new discoveries for one and all!

    Geo
    Sooo, you like wine and are looking for something good to read? Maybe *this* will do the trick! :)
  • Post #18 - December 25th, 2006, 12:47 pm
    Post #18 - December 25th, 2006, 12:47 pm Post #18 - December 25th, 2006, 12:47 pm
    the flavor of the black walnut is a strong and distinctive thing, best used with a neutral backdrop


    Thanks, all. That was kind of my instinctive thought about it too but I saw a lot of chocolate recipes. But then chocolate + nuts + sticky goo is a popular, if not always particularly good, combination.

    I decided maple and custard were walnuts' best friends, and found a maple-black walnut tart in Rose Levy Berenbaum's Pie and Pastry Bible. It just came out of the oven about a half hour ago, smells fantastic, more reports to follow....
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #19 - November 9th, 2007, 10:36 am
    Post #19 - November 9th, 2007, 10:36 am Post #19 - November 9th, 2007, 10:36 am
    On the most recent episode of "The Splendid Table", Lynn R-K briefly mentioned something that is done with black walnuts that I have never heard: people pickle them. (Namely, the British).

    Digging around, I found this recipe, which sounds interesting. I don't think I've ever had a pickled nut.

    Best,
    Michael
  • Post #20 - November 9th, 2007, 7:52 pm
    Post #20 - November 9th, 2007, 7:52 pm Post #20 - November 9th, 2007, 7:52 pm
    eatchicago wrote:On the most recent episode of "The Splendid Table", Lynn R-K briefly mentioned something that is done with black walnuts that I have never heard: people pickle them. (Namely, the British).

    Digging around, I found this recipe, which sounds interesting. I don't think I've ever had a pickled nut.


    That recipe put me in mind of a fragment from Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America.

    Another Method of Making Walnut Catsup

    Take green walnuts before the shell is formed, and grind them in a crab-mill, or pound them in a marble mortar. Squeeze out the juice through a coarse cloth, and put to every gallon of juice a pound of anchovies, and the same quantity of bay-salt, four ounces of Jamaica pepper, two of long and two of black pepper; of mace, cloves, and ginger, each an ounce, and a stick of horseradish. Boil all together till reduced to half the quantity, and then put it into a pot. When it is cold, bottle it close, and in three months it will be fit for use.

    And Trout Fishing in America and Maria Callas poured walnut catsup on their hamburgers.
    Joe G.

    "Whatever may be wrong with the world, at least it has some good things to eat." -- Cowboy Jack Clement
  • Post #21 - November 9th, 2007, 8:50 pm
    Post #21 - November 9th, 2007, 8:50 pm Post #21 - November 9th, 2007, 8:50 pm
    Joe--Interesting stuff, and new to me. Thanks.
    I'm gonna put Elizabeth on this. She and the arboretum staff are looking for recipes to inspire the visitors to the college arboretum to try wild foods. They have black walnuts and could actually harvest them while green.
    Man : I can't understand how a poet like you can eat that stuff.
    T. S. Eliot: Ah, but you're not a poet.
  • Post #22 - November 13th, 2007, 12:11 pm
    Post #22 - November 13th, 2007, 12:11 pm Post #22 - November 13th, 2007, 12:11 pm
    Reading this post has really brought back memories.

    My brothers and I grew up on a farm in Western Illinois, which had about 80 acres of woods on it -- with black walnut trees.

    Every fall, we would pile the big green hulls in the driveway and drive our bikes over them to break the green hulls off, and then put them in the garage to dry.

    After a few months, we take a bunch downstairs to the furnace room and hammer away at the shells on the concrete floor -- which gave my mom plenty of black walnuts to put into the three sweets I still love:

    1) home-made fudge with black walnuts
    2) a normal white-cake recipe, with ground up black walnuts (still my favorite birthday cake option)
    3) a christmas cookie my dad called "golf balls" -- basically a Russian Tea cake with black walnuts instead of pecans or English walnuts

    All of them were full of the elusive, almost tangy and certainly tanic flavor of black walnuts.

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