In the Walnut Woods

In the Walnut Woods

From The Heritage of Etta Bend by Susie Latty Day. Time: around 1918; Place: A small farm in Oklahoma.

Autumn, on our farm at Etta, had its special joys. East of the spring branch, maples blazed in gold and russet. Oaks wore yellow and brown. Walnut trees dropped their leaves, then shed their green-coated nuts on the leafy ground.

On Saturdays and after school each day, Henry, Georgia, Alice, and I grabbed buckets and scurried through the woods to gather fallen walnuts. We filled our buckets, then brought them back and dumped them on a smooth place in the yard. Soon, a good-sized mound of nuts rose to show how hard we had worked.

Beating off the pulpy green hulls stained our hands. We tried wearing gloves to protect our hands, but they got in our way. So, we resigned ourselves to stains and used our bare hands; in fact, one of the signs of fall was the beautiful brown hands of most of the children at Etta School during walnut gathering season.

Mama sometimes put the strong color of walnut hulls to good use. If she wanted a dark-colored lining for a comforter or a not-so-special quilt, she used the green hulls as a dye. She tied them in an old pillow slip and put them in a kettle of water. After the hulls boiled a while, Mama had a kettle of brown dye. Then, she boiled the quilt lining in the dye. The lining came out an even brown.

We hulled the walnuts and spread them on the ground to dry. After they dried, the kernels were crisp and sweet. Next, we cracked the walnut shells. We gathered up a panful of nuts and carried them to the rock steps at the front porch. A good whack or two with a hammer broke the shells into two or more pieces.

After supper dishes were washed, our family liked to sit around the fireplace. While Mama pieced quilts and Papa read the weekly newspaper by the soft glow of a kerosene lamp, we girls and Henry picked the nutmeats from the cracked walnut shells. This took a long time, especially since so many of the tasty walnuts wound up in our mouths instead of the bowls.

We used horseshoe nails as picks. The head of the fail was flat and easy to old. We threw the empty shells into the fireplace. The shells crackled and blazed with many colors and were fun to watch. 

The reward for all the work was the walnut cake Mama baked. She also made molasses candy with nuts in it. And, although it was difficult, Mama managed to save some of the nuts for holiday baking.

Crisp leaves and autumn days bring memories of gathering walnuts–of scuffing through the woods with brother and sisters, of a warm fireplace and flickering lamplight. But, what lingers best, after more than seventy years, is the warmth of times shared with loved ones.


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