In the mid ‘80s, I worked for the telephone company in Connecticut as a sales representative. I traveled to different parts of the state canvassing small businesses to advertise in the yellow pages. The first time I was assigned to the rural northwest corner I immediately fell 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 our state. 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. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Jamie’s cousin and lifelong friend was building his home in this enchanting area, in a lovely rural neighborhood within a tiny town called Morris. Jamie fell in love once he visited the area also, and soon after we bought a 2 acre lot; in 1987 we built our home adjacent to Bob’s property.
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 later years he told Jamie to help himself. Gathering the chestnuts and walnuts has become a welcome addition to our harvesting routine, especially now, because sadly Bob suddenly passed July 2015. Now when Jamie and I gather these treats, we reminisce about Bob and the good times we shared while raising our families as next door neighbors. Our family and neighborhood suffered a loss, yet the seasons will continue to roll along, the nuts will still drop from the trees, and we will still gather like squirrels preparing for winter.
But the story doesn’t end there! My son, Kevin, has decided to start a permaculture farm in southern Maine. One of his cash crops will be chestnuts. So far he’s planted 25–30 trees that were germinated using chestnuts gathered from Bob’s trees.
Chestnuts are hidden inside of porcupine-like pods that are extremely prickly and sharp. Gloves are a requirement when handling; however, they are easy to break open revealing 2 or 3 chestnuts. Once harvested chestnuts need to cure for a few days at room temperature. This sweetens them up. During this phase it’s important to spread them out single layer so they fully dry to prevent molding. Afterwards, they must be kept refrigerated.
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!