Neighborly Nuts

In the mid ’80s Jamie’s cousin, Bob, built his home in a lovely rural neighborhood in Morris. I was working for the phone company at the time as a Yellow Pages sales rep. I travelled to different parts of the state canvassing small businesses to advertise in the phone books and I was assigned the Bethlehem, Morris, Litchfield area. This was the first time that I had ever been to this northwestern corner of the state and I immediately fell completely in love. I remember being particularly impressed with the beauty of the sky. At night there were more stars visible than I ever remembered seeing in Connecticut.  By day, the sky was a clear, bright blue; it seemed closer to me, almost touchable, and the clouds seemed whiter and puffier. There were rolling hills, open fields, farms, lovely views, country stores! It felt like a place to call home and raise a family. Jamie fell in love once he visited the area also, and soon after we bought a 2 acre lot and in 1987 built our home adjacent to Bob’s property.

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When fully ripe the chestnut pods begin to turn brown.

During those early years Bob planted nut trees on his land, and we planted fruit trees on ours. Once mature, Bob’s trees began producing beautiful annual harvests of chestnuts and black walnuts. He and his family didn’t take to gathering these gems each fall, so in recent years he told Jamie to help himself. Wow! We’ve been so fortunate and so grateful! Gathering the chestnuts and walnuts has become a welcome addition to our harvesting routine, especially now, because with a heavy heart I write that Bob suddenly passed over late this July. So last week, while Jamie and I gathered these treats, we reminisced about Bob and the good times we shared while raising our families as next door neighbors; he is sorely missed by our entire family. Our neighborhood has suffered a loss, yet the seasons will continue to roll along, the nuts will still drop from the trees, and we will gratefully gather like squirrels preparing for winter.

 

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Jamie’s fruit/nut picker is about as old and sturdy as the nut trees.

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Chestnuts are hidden inside of porcupine-like pods that are extremely prickly. They are easy to break open, however, revealing 2 or 3 chestnuts. Once harvested chestnuts will sweeten up after curing for a few days at room temperature. During this phase it’s important to spread them out single layer so they fully dry, which will prevent molding; afterwards, they must be refrigerated.  Last year we froze some in their shells but didn’t like the result. This year we are going to try to freeze some after par cooking and removing the shells.

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Black walnuts are hidden inside of hulls that are smooth and easier to handle than chestnut’s prickly pods, but it’s hard to remove the hulls and requires a knife!  Also, the hulls will stain your hands black; wearing gloves is advised when cutting into them.  Once you break into the hulls, your work is only halfway done because cracking open the black walnut shells is also very difficult and requires a hammer or vice.  Maybe these are some of the reasons why Bob and family didn’t care to gather their nuts.  But if you enjoy fresh chestnuts and black walnuts it’s well worth the trouble!

  • Anne Genovese Longo

    Hi Judy! When I lived on Briarfield Dr in Stratford, I remember that my neighbor on the corner had two trees in their front yard that had large prickly pods on them that looked exactly like the chestnut trees you have pictured above! I remember them well because of those pods and now I’m wondering if all those years that I lived there, I could have been eating fresh chestnuts! The neighbors never did anything at all with those trees and I just did a google street view search of my old house and saw that those two trees are now gone. Guess no one wanted to deal with the work!
    I’m always learning something from you! Thanks! Anne

  • Hi Anne! Yes it sure sounds like you could have been eating fresh chestnuts! Your neighbors probably would have liked it if you cleaned up their lawn by gathering those pods. Oh well, now you know! I learned from Jamie 😉