Monday, February 01, 2016

Cracking walnuts ~ My column from Sunday's paper

It’s interesting what triggers memories. An aroma, souvenir, or a ticket torn in half from a movie I saw in 1993 can unleash a flood from somewhere deep in my brain, and for a few moments, I relive that experience. I had one of those recently, and it gave me the idea for this column.

Last week while on my way to New Orleans, I stopped at a place in Meridian, Mississippi to eat. As I stood in line at the counter waiting to pay for lunch, I saw a muffin under glass. It called out to me, and I had the waitress put it in a bag for the road. 

A few hours later when the road stripes began to hypnotize me, I stopped at a fast food place and bought a hot coffee. Once on the road, I pulled the muffin from my brown paper sack and took a bite of heaven. It tasted like my mama's banana nut bread that she made with black walnuts.

There are few things I like as much as banana nut bread with black walnuts though I’ve had a few muffins through the years that came close. The muffins with pecans aren’t bad, and the ones with blueberries are tasty, but if given the choice, I go for the ones with walnuts every time.

There was a grove of black walnut trees standing near the old homeplace where I was born. We didn't live there long, but we always lived within a short bicycle ride away. Every year in late summer and early fall, my mom would send me down there to gather nuts the size of lemons. 

The only downside was a dark substance that coated the shells which made them a little messy to handle. After an afternoon's work, my stained hands looked as if I'd been spreading tar on the roadbed. 

Gathering the walnuts was the easy part. Next came the real chore. Cracking the armor to get at the goodie required heavy tools like hammers and anvils. It was brutal work. 

After the demolition phase came the most delicate operation of digging the goodie out with a knitting needle, and the final inspection. The inspection process took special care because one piece of the shell, which I’m convinced is harder than diamond, would crack a tooth. I learned this the hard way.  

I don't think anyone could have paid me enough money to do this job, but as I sat there beating my thumb and fingers bloody cracking nuts, I could smell the aroma of my mama's banana nut bread baking in the oven, and taste the warm bread as it almost melted in my mouth.

These days, the work of gathering and cracking black walnuts is automated. Machines go about whacking and through some automated magic, separate the meat from the hulls.

Most of the time progress is great, and technology can make our lives much easier, but I doubt a banana nut muffin on the road to New Orleans would have triggered such a vivid memory had they not bloodied a finger or two cracking black walnuts.


Me behind my older sister near the old place.



12 comments:

  1. What a great story! Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. :)

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  2. The reward is always greater when it takes such effort to reach it. This is a great post, dead on about what triggers memories.

    I love the banana nut muffins we get at the local WaWa, but they are against my new eating habits...I think I will cheat a little tomorrow morning. If I don't make my weight goal this week I am blaming you.

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  3. Mmmm--home made muffins!!

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  4. Black walnuts are wonderful! Your story brought back wonderful memories for me too. I haven't had in ages.

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  5. Awe Rick I loved this story... I have a lot of memories like that too... things from the past that come up out of no where and take me back in time.. awesome xox

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  6. I enjoyed the story, especially because many boys (ME TOO!) know the 'experience' of black hands that 'look like you have been spreading tar!' I enjoyed the tale of course, but I love old family pictures, they capture a time.

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  7. I love Banana nut muffins. Walnuts are the best and as I read this, all I could think of was Grandma Black Walnut cakes. Im pretty sure she shelled herself.
    Lisa

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  8. I agree that few things have the power to propel us back in time like food. Growing up, we had a big walnut tree in our backyard and I remember eating walnuts all summer long. Great memories.

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  9. Great memory from your childhood. I eat walnuts everyday for their health benefit but they are so expensive. We have butternuts trees that grows around here and they blackens the hands too. I haven't cracked any in years.
    Happy Ground Day and Happy Leap Year.
    JB

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  10. Have to say this, I have no idea what black walnuts are, never heard of them

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  11. What a wonderful story, I very much enjoyed it. I'm glad you had such a delicious treat and the memories that made it even more so...

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  12. Grandpa had my uncles gather the nuts and they were stored in a peach crate in the attic. After that covering dries it mostly crumbles off. Of course we still had to use the hammer and block of metal kept in the attic for that purpose.

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