Most of the nuts people eat in Australia are not fresh. I’m not basing this opinion on any hard evidence such as data on how long they’re stored before selling, just on the fortunate experience of having grown up between two giant walnut trees, one either side of our house. That’s why I know a rancid nut when I eat one.
The picture shows me when I was little, on a home made rope swing dangling from one of those trees.
I’m realising now that perhaps they weren’t quite as giant as I thought.
I vividly remember not only swinging, but also bouncing on grey-barked branches that grew out almost horizontally from the thick trunks, and climbing, although never as high as my older brothers dared to go.
I remember the snow drops, deep purple violets and delicate mauve periwinkle that flourished under the trees. I remember being fascinated by the tortoises and lizards my brothers kept under one of them for a while.
I don’t remember this, but I know my mum used to park me under the walnut in my pram when I was a baby, for my afternoon sleep.
I remember the ‘shop’ I set up under the same shady boughs to ‘sell’ bric-a-brac to the only customer available: my mum (we lived five miles out of town, so not much passing trade). It was just one of many, many games that took place under and in the walnut trees.
I remember how the husk surrounding the growing walnut looked like a passionfruit through all the stages of growth from unripe, to ready to eat.
I still remember the smell of the soft oval leaves, and how strands of sticky black husk clung to the shell like spider web.
I remember that we hunted through the dark foliage of the violets and periwinkle to gather ripe wrinkled nuts that had fallen on the ground.
I remember how clever my brothers were at cracking the nuts so that they broke perfectly in half, looking like small boats. And I remember the taste. The skin could be a little astringent, yes, but the nuts didn’t have the acrid taste of store bought nuts, were never floury, and certainly not rancid.
We had lots of walnuts.
Every winter, my mum made walnut pudding: a plain batter with golden syrup and walnuts, baked in the slow combustion stove. But I think we mostly ate them raw.
I remember looking out my bedroom window at the walnut tree the morning we left the farm forever, drinking in the early summer green of the leaves, knowing I’d never see it again, trying to imprint it on my memory.
I didn’t need to try so hard, those walnut trees are totally embedded in my psyche. But I’ve never again eaten walnuts as fresh.
Check out other fresh challenge responses here.