Monday, December 22, 2008

Walnuts worth the Cracking

I love walnuts. They’re healthy, they’re just right on oatmeal and I eat them several days a week. Like most foods, the price of walnuts has been increasing lately. But when I recently paid $8.99 a lb for bulk walnuts, that turned out to be stale, in the “natural foods” section of a local grocery story I realized it was past time to look for local walnuts.

I know there aren’t many walnut farms around the valley but I had a memory of a small handmade cardboard sign advertising walnuts on Silverton Rd east of Salem last year. The Saturday after the stale walnut purchase I set out to find it and thought I’d stop at EZ Orchards on the way to do some Christmas shopping (check the link in the farm stands section.) After loading up my cart with Oregon Wheat Growers soft white wheat pancake mix and berry syrups from around the valley for the out of town relatives I happened upon a bin of walnuts in their shells for ONE DOLLAR A POUND. I bought a few pounds. I’d read that the actual nut makes up about 48% of the weight of walnuts in the shell so I figured this was about $2.10 for each shelled pound. I would have bought more but I was worried that they were such a good deal something must have been wrong with them or that shelling walnuts was such a pain no one in their right mind would buy them in the shell.

I broke out these walnuts one morning when I was cooking that awesome Christine and Rob’s oatmeal from Aspinwall’s. I cracked one open, it broke apart with ease, and I popped a half in my mouth. It was entirely different from any walnuts I’ve ever eaten. It was crisper, light and kind of delicate. Most importantly, it was sweet.

I took the other half to my boyfriend and said “here taste this.”

“What’s on it?”

“Nothing, I just took it out of the shell.”

A quizzical look came over his face.

He thought that walnut must have been sugar coated.

Not long after this we set out to find the farm with the sign I’d remembered to see if we could buy more walnuts direct. East of Salem on Silverton Rd not far beyond EZ Orchards there it was, a small piece of cardboard with “walnuts” and an arrow indicating a left turn. We missed the turn and had to pull over and turn around. A ways down that road there was another sign, another arrow and down that road another sign pointing us down a gravel road. Finally there was a house, with a sign in front of an open garage. In the garage were a couple of those large square wooden farm bins. One had walnuts and one had hazelnuts. The walnuts were $1.50 a pound, still a great deal and since I’m buying more direct at least I know a farmer is getting the profit. I bought $11 dollars worth since that’s the cash I had. We stopped at EZ Orchards on the way home and found the walnuts there were now $1.99. It turns out those fabulous first walnuts I had were last years. Apparently it can takes years for walnuts to get stale if they’re left in the shell.

The more I eat these walnuts and learn about growing them the greater appreciation I have for the farmers who grow them. They’re so good I’ll be stocking up soon so that I’m never stuck with stale, expensive, grocery store walnuts again. I’m also looking at walnut trees, they take lots of room and often don’t produce a crop for the first 10 years. Imagine the commitment of a farmer who plants a few acres of these and then makes nothing from them for 10 long years of watering, weeding and pruning. I reflect on it and think “I should have paid him extra.”

For those to the North here is the walnut page from tri-county farms.

and their list of farms

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