Keeping Walnuts Fresh:
1. To keep your walnuts fresh for a long periods of time, store them in a refrigerator or freezer. If walnuts are stored in cooler environments they have a 14 month shelf life from the time they are harvested in September or October.
Varieties of Walnuts:
There are several species of nuts commonly referred to as walnuts. The nuts we grow are the English Walnut (Juglans Regia), literally the king of nuts. Other common walnuts are the Black Walnut (Juglans Nigra), the Northern California Black Walnut (Juglans Hindsii) and the paradox which is a cross between J. Regia and J. Hindsii. The Northern California Black Walnut and the hybrid are often used as a rootstock for commercial plantings of the English Walnut. The Black Walnut is native to the Ohio River Valley and is not commonly grown in California.
With the English Walnut Species there are many cultivars, often referred to as varieties. These are specific trees that are selected or bred to have certain desirable characteristics and multiplied for commercial production. This is a natural process that has been going on for thousands of years. For the last several decades, the University of California at Davis, has run a breeding program searching out superior cultivars of walnuts for California growers. Some characteristics we look for are: color, size, production, and disease resistance. Every cultivar also has a certain characteristics as a tree, and will produce nuts with certain flavors and appearances.
History of Walnuts:
Walnuts are the oldest tree food known to man. They originated in ancient Persia in 7000 B.C. and were considered food reserved for royalty. The Roman's called walnuts "Jupiter's Royal Acorn". Walnuts were first cultivated in California in the late 1700s
The Black Walnut is native to the Ohio River Drainage of the U.S.
Despite the name, English Walnuts are not native to England. They are referred to by that name since english traders carried them around the world. As best as we can tell they are native to the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The Chinese in particular have valued the English Walnut as a source of food, wood and shade for thousands of years.
Where do Dark Walnuts Come from?
One of the most common questions I am asked is why some walnuts are darker in color. A common mis-conception is that they are old, this is not the case.
As an individual walnut grows on the tree during the season it is nourished to a large extent by a handful of specific leaves. The tree will grow buds that may grow into walnuts in locations where it senses it can support a nut. Only as the nuts grow in size their weight causes the tree to change shape so some of the locations where the tree is trying to grow a nut receive substantially more or less sunlight than what the tree anticipated. If they end up with a lot more sun then the nut will tend to burn on the outside giving a darker nut meat on the half of the nut that had excessive sun. If, on the other hand the nut falls into the shadows it will generally not fill all the way giving a somewhat shriveled nut that matures earlier than the rest of the tree causing it to be darker by the time it is harvested.
Darker nuts are just as healthy, fresh and nutritious as the rest of the walnuts. They do taste somewhat differently. We sort out the darker nut meats in the shelling process. If you buy in-shell nuts you will have a variety of colors as it is impossible to sort by color without shelling the nuts. Generally the darker nuts are used in products where appearances are not as important, inside of bread for instance, but some people prefer dark nuts and seek them out. If you would like some darker nuts let us know when you place your order and we would be glad to send you some.
We sell green walnuts in two different stages of development. In late May to June we sell immature walnuts before the shell hardens to those wanting to make Noccino and similar items. We also sell mature but un-dried walnuts in August and September if you would like to try them as they taste off the tree. Both have very limited shelf life and can only be shipped in-season to locations in the continental U.S.
For those who have no idea what that is referring to let me explain. The walnut grows inside of a green husk. When it is mature the husk will split open allowing the nut to fall to the earth and be harvested. To provide the highest quality nuts to our customers we shake the trees somewhat before the nuts fall to the ground and run them through a machine to remove any remaining husk then dry the nuts so they don't mold in storage.
It is a tradition in some parts of the world to take the nuts off the tree before they are ripe and use them husk and all to make traditional alcoholic drinks. There are a number of different methods of doing this none of which I am very familiar with but if you are looking for a source for green walnuts to use in these endeavors let us know and we would be glad to provide you with what you need.
We have received some requests for nut meal to use as bird feed. When we shell the walnuts there is a portion of the nut that will break into very fine pieces. As there is no practical way to remove the shell from this fine of material it is usually pressed for oil. I have received some interest in this as bird feed. While I know nothing about the feeding of birds if you are interested in trying this we would be glad to sell you some. Contact us by e-mail for current price and availability.
When we shell the walnuts we end up with a lot of empty shells, as you would expect. The shell is useful as an abrasive, can be spread on dirt roads to reduce dust, is sometimes incorporated into tires for traction on ice and snow and has uses in cosmetics. In addition we compost the shells to turn back into fertilizer for the trees that produced them. If you would like to purchase shells for any purpose let us know and I can get you a current price as well as arranging shipping.