No electricity and the backyard is a mess of branches. A 100-foot white pine lying next to, not on, the house. We give thanks. We pick up branches. Then we notice green-husked nuts everywhere. Hurricane Irene has blessed us with black walnuts.
Black walnuts are prized for their intense flavor. That's what I've read — I've never tasted one. Since I moved to this house three years ago, I've only admired the beauty of the 200-year-old black walnut tree. Squirrels love the nuts. They send them down and the nuts bang against the roof like a roofer with a 10-pound hammer, startling us, shattering a car window. I haven't been hit, yet.
I want to eat these fabled black walnuts. But like all good things, it's not easy. The nuts are covered in a green husk. Befitting the post-hurricane reality, we go low-tech. Rubber mallet and brick. The green husk yields to the whack of a rubber mallet. The hard, wrinkled shell is revealed.
It's messy. There's more husk than nut. And the husk contains tannic acid that turns our hands yellow-brown and deep, almost-black brown. It seeps through the food-service plastic gloves we're wearing.
If you try this at home, and please do — now is the season to harvest black walnuts — wear heavy-duty gloves. Getting that stain out of your skin is damn difficult. During the next two weeks, I scrubbed my hideous hand repeatedly with lemon and salt. The improvements were minimal. I looked like a one-handed mechanic. But my hand recovered its normal color sooner than my husband's. Women's work: washing with hot water, dish soap and vinegar cleans the hands as well as the floor.
After we husked the walnuts, we air-dried them on cake racks. Later that week, reconnected to the virtual world, I discovered a guy who, after husking the walnuts, agitates them in cold water to remove the remaining bits of husk. Then he dries them in the sun. You could dry them in an oven on low temperature. But we didn't dunk our walnuts in water, and we dried them in our kitchen.