12 Oct 2006
My Long Love Affair With the Walnut.
Walnuts will save the Earth. I’m sure of it. Such a wonderful tree, such a marvel of nature, my love affair with the walnut remains undimmed over the many years since our first flirtations 13 years ago. If I had to trace our affair back to a particular event, it would be a beautiful autumn day where I went for a walk by a canal near Bath.
There was a walnut tree, huge, ancient, and below it a carpet of walnuts. Pockets, hats and bags were stuffed, and our harvest enjoyed at leisure over the following weeks. I remember thinking, as I stood there, what an amazing creation, this huge, graceful, stately, food producing, sculptural feature in this beautiful landscape. The world needs walnut trees and it needs them fast.
I was reminded of my veneration of the walnut when a small bag of walnuts arrived from my aunt. When my first son was born, we planted a walnut tree in her garden. It was just a sapling when we planted it, but to her increasing alarm, it has grown and grown, and is now a very large tree. I have regularly suggested that despite its expansive form, there is the great compensation of crops of walnuts.
This suggestion, however, is often rebuffed by being told that actually she has rarely ever actually had a walnut off it, the tree keeping the local squirrel population well fed, but very few remaining long enough for her to get any. This year though, she has actually had enough nuts from it to be able to send us a bag of them. What wonderful and delicious nuts they are. Sweet, oily, rich, easy to crack. They are rich in protein and oils. They can be stored, and offer a very important food for filling the hungry gap.
This however was the first year she had got any sizeable harvest from this wonderful addition to her garden. She wondered why it might be that this year it has finally come good. The answer? A sudden increase in fertility? A fortuitous side effect of climate change? Increased pollination due to a more active bee population? No. After a good bit of asking around, it turns out that one of her neighbours has been shooting the squirrels.