Outdoors

Going nuts in the great outdoors

The Nature Call: No need to run to the store for 'hard fruit'

Squirrels know the benefits of nuts. (John Lawrence Hanson/correspondent)
Squirrels know the benefits of nuts. (John Lawrence Hanson/correspondent)
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Major Wagner of the Panzer corps was nonplused by the reply.

The response to his high command’s question wasn’t an answer at all but rather a mystery. General von Luettwitz had asked a question of life and death: were the desperate Americans he had trapped at Bastogne ready to surrender or be destroyed?

Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe’s response was one word, “Nuts.” The Germans were confused. Were the Germans to think the American’s were hungry, angry or ready to quit?

Confusion bought some time perhaps. The 101st Airborne saved Bastogne. And thus was born a legend. Nuts once again proved themselves lifesavers in lean times.

Millions of pounds of nuts surround us. I wonder what is the value of all that food? Our squirrels, turkeys and deer certainly know the value. Maybe we are too focused on the price?

The conveniences of places like Kum & Go and Hy-Vee have dulled our drive to forage afield. Picking among cellophane wrapped goodies is a substitute for that ancient activity. But the ambience of indoor foraging can’t hold a candle to the great outdoors

When our poverty for food and entertainment was greater, nutting parties were a common way to address both needs. When was the last time you picked nuts?

Edible nuts are all around us. Black walnut trees are our most charismatic “hard fruit” tree. Grand in stature and bearing stately lumber, black walnut trees also drop tasty morsels. But they aren’t the easiest trees to keep in one’s yard. I fetch my walnuts from a city park.

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If you rely on English walnuts to satisfy your fix, then you’re missing out on a brighter flavor from our local species. But be warned, the English walnuts are a genteel breed whereas its American cousin is hardscrabble and frontier tough. A fancy nutcracker is no match for the fortress that is the shell for a black walnut.

I consider the difficulty in getting at the meat an enhancement to the flavor. And if my fingers carry a dirty stain for a couple of weeks after the initial processing, then I’ve added a new conversation starter for the curious.

The shagbark hickory is no slouch in flavor either, but I figure it’s on far fewer minds than walnuts as a food source. A dear friend introduced me to shagbark hickory cookies and I’ve counted down the season every since.

Hazelnuts are there for the taking. Beech or chestnut are few and far between, they are transplants from afar where present. Global warming will make Iowa friendlier to pecan trees. And then there are acorns.

Yes, acorns can be ground into a flour. There are 12 species of quercus native to Iowa. They are so wonderful in 1961 our general assembly declared them the state tree.

I doubt oak flour will become a staple unless extreme times change our economic calculus. In the fall when you are in need of a diversion, gather some friends and say, “Nuts!”

Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.

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