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.

Holiday Wishbook 2017 – A List Of Useful Items For The Homestead!

For my younger readers who never experienced it, I can’t fully describe what it was like when the Sears-Roebuck Wishbook arrived each autumn.  Let me just say it was a big, big deal.  It was like Amazon Prime Day, Black Friday and December 26th clearance shopping all rolled into one thick, beautiful catalog.  When it finally arrived at the end of October, you’d anxiously rip off that clear plastic covering and spend your Saturday morning pouring over the pages, hunting for the best new toy and avidly reading the colorful descriptions.  Sigh.

I’m sorry you missed that experience, but as we’re quickly approaching the holiday season,  I’d like to give you a Wishbook of sorts!  Every heirloom skill and working homestead requires certain essential tools and I want to share a few of my favorites with you. Though I am an Amazon affiliate, I have no connection to any of these companies beyond the fact that I have used these particular products for many years and have found them useful, convenient and reliable….so when I say I love them it’s because I love them!  I may do a Dirty Dozen list later on…of products I shipped back or threw in the dumpster, but not today!  These are the keepers!  Here we go!

L’Equip Food Dehydrator

I’ve been using this dehydrator for 7 or 8 years and it’s still running like a champ.  It comes with fine screens for small foods like herbs, adjustable heat settings, sized to fit in a standard cabinet, has a 10 year warranty and runs silently.  You can also buy additional trays, screens and fruit leather inserts to expand the amount you can dry at once.  It’s a real workhorse! L’EQUIP 528 6 Tray Food Dehydrator, 500-watt

      

Ball Enamel Water Bath Canner and Utensils

– When you begin preserving your own food, water bath canning is typically the first step.  What I love about the enamel canner is that after 10 years, the finish is as beautiful as when it was new.  No stains, marks or scratches unlike some of the models on the market.  The wire rack and lifter tool prevents shattered jars and burned fingers and are absolute necessities. Ball Enamel Water Bath Canner, Including Chrome-Plated Rack and 4-Piece Utensil Set

Ball Blue Book

-There are a million canning books out there, but this has been the standard bearer for several generations.  This book includes full-color pictures, step-by-step how-tos and hundreds of recipes that have been tested for safety and flavor.  In my opinion, this should be required reading for all new home-canners Blue Book Guide to Preserving (by Jarden Home Brands).

Instant Pot

-Though this is a fairly new (5 years) product on the market, I’ve used mine enough to excitedly recommend it to dozens of my close friends and family members!  The Instant Pot cooks quick, nutritious food with little mess and replaces a dozen other small appliances like yogurt makers, rice cookers, egg cooker, crock pots, steamers.  I love the set-it-and-forget-it programs and the automatic keep-warm setting.  I’m serious when I say this product has revolutionized how I prepare food for my family Instant Pot DUO60 6 Qt 7-in-1 Multi-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Rice Cooker, Steamer, Sauté, Yogurt Maker and Warmer 

White Wizard Stain Remover

This may seem like a strange Wishbook recommendation, but let me tell you, homesteading is dirty, dirty work.  Throw in a couple active kids and rambunctious dogs and you end up with stains that are total nightmares.  White Wizard successfully removed chocolate syrup + ketchup + iced tea from Petunia’s white cotton Sunday dress, so I’m confident it will remove pretty much any stain from any fabric.  And it smells nice too White Wizard WW010 All Purpose Stain Remover – 10 fl. oz.

Lodge Cast Iron

-Another homestead standard, my Lodge cast iron has given me many years of service with minimal work.  Scrub with oil and salt to clean, dry and wipe with oil and you’ll have a reliable pan for decades to come.  And the silicon handle is a lifesaver! Lodge Cast Iron Skillet with Red Silicone Hot Handle Holder, 12-inch

Ecofan

-We love heating with firewood, but hated the noise from the built-in fan in the woodstove, so this was a real find for us!  It’s completely non-electric and requires no installation!  You simply set the fan on the rear of the stove and as the base heats, it creates its own power and runs silently.  It’s quite small but does it ever move air!  We love it! Ecofan 810CAKBX UltrAir Mid-Size Heat Powered Wood Stove Fan, Made in Canada, Nickel 

Victorio Food Mill

-Plainly put, no other food mill, strainer, blender, juicer or processor compares to a Victorio food mill.  If you’re going to preserve your own sauces, salsas, butters and purees, you’re either going to HAVE a Victorio food mill or NEED a Victorio food mill.  It’s a real workhorse, easily grinding through tomatoes, onions, grapes, apples and discharging the seeds, cores and peels.  I cannot recommend this tool enough! Deluxe Food Strainer and Sauce Maker by VICTORIO VKP250

Garden Claw

-This is perfect for breaking ground in small areas like raised beds and for loosening and aerating soil between close plantings.    They also work well in tough, clay, packed soil…they’re so useful, we have 2! Garden Weasel 91316 Garden Claw

Push/Pull Hoe

-This tool was a game-changer for us.  Using this hoe, I can weed our entire garden (3000+ sf) in under an hour.  And the real plus to this tool is the push/pull “mopping” motion is far more gentle on the arms and shoulders than the “hacking” movement of a traditional hoe. Push Pull Hoe

Perfect Pickler

-I found this gadget at Lehman’s in Amish country many years ago and have thoroughly enjoyed using it.  I like to incorporate lacto-fermented food into our diet as often as possible because of the health benefits but a) who has time to wait months for kraut and b) who wants a 5 gallon crock of kraut anyway?!  The Perfect Pickler ferments small batches of veggies in under 10 days using only a Mason jar and salt. Perfect Pickler Fermentation Value PackageSo there’s the 2017 Legacy Wishbook!  I have a few more products to recommend, but that will have to wait til next year, my friends!  So what am I missing?  What other useful products would you add to my Wishbook?

Tools of the Trade – Victorio Food Strainer

“Phineas, I know what we’re going to do today!”—(just Google it if you don’t get that cultural reference!)  While my garden hasn’t exactly flourished this year, I’ve been blessed by several sisters in Christ whose garden HAVE done beautifully and so, it’s been a canning marathon here at our country house.  Look at these big beautiful tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, several varieties of hot peppers, cucumbers, green beans and more…and I’ve never been so thankful!

For the next few weeks, tomatoes are going to be on the top of my priority list.  As my children have grown older and we’ve moved towards whole, homegrown foods, our tomato consumption has gone through the roof!  We eat those babies juiced for soups, canned whole for stews, sauced, as salsa, stewed with celery and sweet peppers, stewed with okra, dehydrated.   As my goal is a minimum of 100qts of tomato products, not counting salsa, anything that will expedite the preservation process is a huge plus!

With 3 bushels of tomatoes in the mudroom waiting to be juiced this morning, I tried several different tools to see which would produce the quickest, best quality product with the least amount of waste and this was my favorite:

Victorio Food Mill

 

Deluxe Food Strainer and Sauce Maker by VICTORIO VKP250

It’s a Victorio Food Strainer….

and you can find them online all day long in the $50-75 range, depending on the model you go with.  Mine was a lucky yard sale find for $5.  Whoot!  Can’t beat that!  Anyway, here’s what I liked best about this particular model:  it has a huge hopper for holding produce, it clamps down securely on your countertop, simple assembly and it squeezes the last drop of pulp and juice out of the veggies without a seed anywhere!  It makes thick, pulpy tomato juice, sauces apples without peeling, and it also has interchangeable screens for grapes, salsa, etc.  To be fair, I tried 2 other strainer/juicers I had laying around the house…and ended up throwing one away.  A good quality, name brand electric juicer was a total mess and the old-style food mill passed seeds without fully straining the peels.  I’ll let you figure out which one went straight into the garbage.

While food preservation doesn’t require TOO many specialty items, it will save you both time and frustration if you use the correct tool for the job.  In my opinion, if you’re going to bother with juicing or saucing fruits and veggies, you’re either going to HAVE a Victorio food strainer or you’re going to NEED one.  Give it some thought, do some research and let me know what you decide!  Til next time—