A Hard Nut To Crack

As I talked about in the post last week, black walnuts are in season and abundant this year!   At our last home, we had access to just a few black walnut trees on a neighboring property.  Now we’re on a property with dozens and dozens and dozens of black walnut trees, with thousands of walnuts laying in the driveway rotting and dead spots all over the front yard from the tannin in the husks.  This year we decided we needed to figure out SOME way to make use of those nuts to prevent both waste and a big mess, but as you know, black walnuts are difficult to both clean and crack.  But I think we hit upon a few good ideas this year, both for the cleaning and the cracking.  All you’ll need is a cage/trap/perforated metal containment of some sort and a power washer.

We gathered about 15-5 gallon buckets of really grossly-ripe walnuts from the front yard and dumped them 1 bucket at a time into an old live trap.  It was clean, don’t fret about it.

My darling husband set the power washer to the strongest spray setting and turned it on the walnuts, rolling the cage from front to back every minute or two to ensure all the nuts were receiving the full brunt of the spray.  (Pardon the blurry picture…there was gunky overspray splattering everywhere!)

 

 

After approximately 5 minutes of power washing, the nuts were clean and we spread them on a sheet to dry in the grass.

 

 

So step 1, the cleaning, is done.  Now onto step 2, which is far more difficult.  For the past 14 years, I’ve tried numerous methods for cracking black walnuts.  I’ve tried the small handheld versions you find at Walmart and broke about 3 of them.  Tried a mallet.  Tried a brick.  Used a vise.  Ran over them with my Jeep.   Some of the methods worked, some of them failed miserably, most of them resulted in mangled black walnuts with glass-like shards of walnut shell crushing the meat that had to be picked out in miniscule bits.  Yes, it IS that hard to crack a walnut shell.  I seriously don’t know how the squirrels do it.  This year, my husband decided it was time to take the plunge and invest in a quality nutcracker to harvest all those expensive nuts!  And oh did he find a good one!  We love the Master Cracker for Black & English Walnut, Plus Filbert Nut/hazelnut, Pecan, Macadamia, Chestnut- American Made!

If you’ve ever tried to crack black walnuts, you KNOW how difficult the process is but this cracker is so easy to use, my sweet Petunia did it one-handed without breaking a sweat.

So here are some of the features that we like.

  1. The grip is rubber-coated, so it’s comfortable to use, even after a hundred walnuts.  It’s also easy to wipe clean.
  2. It has a large wooden base, approximately 5X20 inches, so you have a very secure surface to work on that won’t slip and slide around.  I love that I don’t have to clamp this to a countertop or bolt it to a work table.
  3. It has interchangeable cracker cups, so you can crack small nuts like hazelnuts right up to large, tough black walnuts.  There is literally no nut you can’t crack with this cracker.  Except a coconut, possibly.
  4. It has a heavy spring so the lever-action feels very secure.  There’s no slop or play in the handle, is what I’m saying.
  5. The ratcheting action of the handle allows it to crack even the hardest nuts with almost no force required.  A child can use this cracker with no problem.
  6. It’s American-made.  Love that!  Apparently there’s a very similar Chinese-made product that costs far less…but as with most things,  you get what you pay for.  Check on youtube for a side-by-side comparison and you’ll see what I mean.

I think my only “complaint” is that I wish the base had a more durable finish for cleaning up afterwards.  It appears to have a rubbed-oil finish, but a gloss would make it easier to wipe up any black walnut mess!  Not that that interferes with the function of the cracker, just saying.

Now I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not cheap.  This model runs over $100, but given the price of black walnuts at the grocery and the fact we have thousands of them wasting in the front yard, it was a sensible purchase for my family.  This cracker will most likely pay for itself in just a year or two, especially given how much I love black walnuts!

I don’t do product reviews often, and when I do, it’s only for products that really work well and save me time and labor.  This cracker does both, so I’m very comfortable recommending it for those of you looking!  Til next time!

 

Posted to SimpleLifeMom Homestead Blog Hop.

Stocking The Deep Larder – Or- Food Storage For Real People

Food storage as it used to be.

I want to talk to you pretty frankly about building a “deep larder”, or food storage, as it’s more commonly referred to in farming and homesteading circles today.  I’ve only touched on this topic a time or two because of the stereotypes that go along with it.  I’ll confess that when I hear the phrase “food storage”, I automatically picture some paranoid, anti-social survivalist with camo clothes, a painted face and year’s worth of freeze-dried MREs hiding out in a bunker. Not a pretty sight.

But THAT shouldn’t be our impression of food storage at all. My sweet little Granny in eastern Kentucky practiced storing basic food long before survivalists and conspiracy theorists hijacked it in the Y2K era. She grew her garden, preserved the harvest and kept basic, bulk supplies in the summer kitchen, just feet from the back door.  She used to tell stories of leaving her summer kitchen door unlocked at night during the Great Depression for her neighbors who didn’t plan ahead and were starving but were too proud to ask for help. She said they never took more than they needed and always returned her clean Mason jars to the back porch. My granny survived 2 World Wars, rationing, joblessness and the Depression by practicing what people had practiced for eons before her: planning ahead during times of abundance for when the times of shortage came.

A generation or two farther back in time, Laura Ingalls’ family was practicing the same useful skill of storing food for lean times.

The garden behind the little house had been growing all summer. It was so near the house that the deer did not jump the fence and eat the vegetables in the daytime, and at night Jack kept them away. Sometimes in the morning there were little hoof-prints among the carrots and the cabbages. But Jack’s tracks were there, too, and the deer had jumped right out again.

Now the potatoes and carrots, the beets and turnips and cabbages were gathered and stored in the cellar, for freezing nights had come.

Onions were made into long ropes, braided together by their tops, and then were hung in the attic beside wreaths of red peppers strung on threads. The pumpkins and the squashes were piled in orange and yellow and green heaps in the attic’s corners.

The barrels of salted fish were in the pantry, and yellow cheeses were stacked on the pantry shelves.

– Little House In The Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1932

That changed abruptly in Post-WWII America with the advent of the supermarket.  Suddenly, the food disappeared from cellars, pantries, summer kitchens and backyard gardens.  As highways began to criss-cross America and refrigeration became more affordable and obtainable, families no longer depended on their larder/food storage.   Now, it’s unusual to find more than a few day’s worth of food in any given house on any given day.  Friends, I believe that needs to change.  While I’m very thankful for the prosperity that America has enjoyed for decades, we can’t allow prosperity to lull us into a sense of complacency.

I don’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist, but I know things happen.  Blizzards.  Job loss.  Power outages.  Divorce.  Hacked bank accounts.  Things happen.  Back in September of 2008, Ohio was side-swiped by the remnants of Hurricane Ike.  Ohio.  Experiencing a hurricane.  Go figure.  We anticipated a good soaking rainfall, but what no one saw coming was the Category 1 winds that knocked out power to millions in our area.  For nearly a week, we were without lights, hot water, communication or utilities.  Roads were blocked by fallen trees.  Grocery stores were closed.  ATMs were out of order.  And because we were in a very rural area, we were very low on the list of priorities.   Let me tell you, it was quite the rough week and a pantry full of canned soups, veggies and meats sure came in handy.  Beyond Hurricane Ike, having a stocked larder has proved invaluable to my family during extended lay-offs, extreme winter weather, feeding unexpected guests and as a means to bless others experiencing hardship.  I believe whole-heartedly that a well-stocked larder should be a priority to us just as it has been in generations past.

Let me just pause here and say that I don’t want you to pursue a deep larder out of a sense of fear, but of prudence.  I’ve seen so many sites that use fear to prompt huge, unnecessary purchases and that’s not at all what I want for you.  I want you to think ahead like our grannies did and create a necessary, useful cushion for our families.  The Bible promises us that bad times WILL come and admonishes us to think ahead (Eccl 11:2, Prov 6:6-9, Prov 13:16, Prov 31:21) and be ready for when the good times end.  We need to be like the ant, my friends!

Stocking your larder doesn’t have to be expensive, and it doesn’t have to mean storing MREs and powdered milk, because ~GAG~.  The only hard and fast rule for stocking up is to buy food that you KNOW you will use.   If your family doesn’t eat dried beans, for the love of Mike, don’t buy a 50# bag of dried beans because a survivalist told you to!!  Tailor your pantry to the needs and palates of your family members.   An easy way to begin the process is to spend a week or two journaling what you eat each day and look for trends.  Are there items on your “menu” that you eat consistently and frequently?  THOSE would be  smart purchases.  After you have a rough idea of what your family eats in a typical week, begin the process of stocking up on those familiar items.   Still unsure where to start?  How about:

Canned beans
Canned soups and stews
Canned fruits and veggies
Canned/packaged fish and meats
Oats and grains
Rice
Pasta
Sugar/honey/maple syrup
Salt
Dehydrated fruit
Oil
Flours
Evaporated/condensed/instant/shelf-stable milk  and other fluids such as bottled water, sports drinks and juices.

Most of these foods have a shelf-life of several years, many can be eaten as-is in an emergency, and nearly all cost less than $2, especially if you shop at Aldi or another discount store. It isn’t beyond anyone’s budget to throw an extra box of pasta or a couple cans of soup in the shopping buggy each week. And believe me, those extra packages add up quickly.  If you live in a rural region or close to a farmer’s market, I suggest you take advantage of the fact we’re in peak food-production season and buy fresh, inexpensive produce that you can can, dry, freeze, pickle or otherwise preserve.  That’s a simple way to stock your larder quickly.

I’m hesitant to provide links to food-storage plans because they can be absolutely overwhelming, and while they can provide valuable information, they often use fear to incentivize huge purchases. We don’t want to act out of a spirit of fear, but wisdom—and wisdom would say buying something we can’t afford and won’t eat isn’t wise at all! I found only one article I thought would be helpful—addressing what they called “Home Food Resilience“, or the ability to withstand shocks to our budget, environment or lifestyle. They include suggestions for building a “deep pantry”, as we discussed above, as well as freeze dried “emergency” food. Read it with a grain of salt and see what you can glean from it. And as always, feel free to ask questions!!  Til next time!