Sunday 25 September 2011


We bought our house in Kelowna for the back yard.  The house itself was run down and had good bones but the yard, oh the yard!  It was blessed with mature trees.  There were a cherry tree, an apricot tree, a prune plum tree, a pear tree and a hazelnut tree.  The crowning glory, though, was a huge English walnut tree in the back corner of the lot.

The Okanagan is home to Canada’s only desert and, while slightly less arid than the desert lands immediately to its south, Kelowna in the summertime is very dry and very hot.  Our tree-filled back yard was an oasis, drawing birds, neighbours,and neighbourhood kids to its comfortable shade in equal numbers. 

We picked the fruit from our trees as it ripened in succession and then waited for the walnuts.  In early October we harvested them in huge numbers and my husband stained his hands dark brown prising them from their green husks and then extracting them from their shells.  We toasted the nuts lightly in the oven and then packed them away in the freezer.  Throughout the rest of the year we gave countless pounds of walnuts away as gifts—always gratefully received—and still enjoyed plenty for ourselves.

When we moved back to Vancouver Island, Jack mourned nothing from our time in Kelowna except the walnut tree.  He missed it terribly.

Some years later, when we were shopping for the home we are living in now, we were both delighted to find that the lot to our building boasted a large English walnut tree.  It was one of the many things that decided our purchase here.  We can now enjoy a close view of that tree from our apartment’s balcony.

Last year, the walnuts on our tree didn’t ripen.  One of our neighbours, who has lived here for more than 20 years, says it was the first time that had ever happened.  This year things are looking better.  The tree is heavy laden and the green husks on the walnuts are starting to split open slightly; a good indication that they are ripening as they should.

We have some competition for the walnuts from our tree.  The neighbourhood squirrels have been using the power lines in front of our place as a highway, and make daily stops to check the ripeness of “their crop.”  Jack yells the occasional, half-hearted “Get-out-of-there-you-little-bastards” imprecation at them but he is greatly entertained by their comings and goings and suspects—quite rightly—that there will still be enough left for the building residents even with the squirrels taking their share. 

Joe Public is a greater problem.  Because it is on the grounds of an apartment building, some people seem to view our tree as public domain.  Last year, we woke one morning to find a guy with a truck, a ladder, and buckets making ready to harvest the nuts from our tree.  My fella was not nearly so half hearted in his confrontation with him!

Walnuts are an ancient food source.  There are native species throughout Europe and Asia and one species—the Butternut or Black Walnut—is native to North America.  They’ve formed part of the human diet for a very long time. 

The oldest archeological site where walnuts were unearthed is in the Shanidar caves in northern Iraq, dating back to the Mesolithic Era. 

Items from the New Stone Age or Neolithic period found in Switzerland's lake district included walnuts. The Neolithic period began in Southwest Asia from about 8,000 BCE and expanded throughout Europe between 6,000 to 2,000 BCE. 

In North America, the upper Great Lakes region provides archeological evidence of walnut consumption dating back to 2000 BCE. Along with eating the walnut itself, First Nations people used the sap of the walnut tree in their food preparation.[1]  

Besides being a longstanding and very flavourful component our diet, walnuts are rich in nutrients.  They’re a good source of protein, vitamin E, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant phytonutrients. 

The form of vitamin E found in walnuts is somewhat unusual, and particularly beneficial. Instead of having most of its vitamin E present in the alpha-tocopherol form, walnuts provide an unusually high level of vitamin E in the form of gamma-tocopherol. Particularly in studies on the cardiovascular health of men, this gamma-tocopherol form of vitamin E has been found to provide significant protection from heart problems.[2]

Phytonutrient research on the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of walnuts has moved this food further and further up the ladder of foods that are protective against metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular problems, and type 2 diabetes. Some phytonutrients found in walnuts - for example, the quinone juglone - are found in virtually no other commonly-eaten foods. Other phytonutrients - like the tannin tellimagrandin or the flavonol morin - are also rare and valuable as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients. These anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phytonutrients also help explain the decreased risk of certain cancers - including prostate cancer and breast cancer - in relationship to walnut consumption.[3]

The nutritional data at may prove helpful to you, although the serving size is quite large.  Walnuts are—like all nuts—rich in oil and therefore high in calories.  Moderation is key:  If you limit your serving to a smaller quantity (7 whole walnuts = 163 calories), you’ll still obtain a nutritional benefit, especially if that portion comprises part of a varied and balanced diet.

I find it fascinating that the lovely tree outside my building has a heritage dating all the way back to Mesolithic times.  I’m glad that the walnuts I’ll get from that tree are so nutritious.  I’m grateful for the shade the tree provides, for its beauty, and for the entertainment provided us by its squirrel “farmers.”  Most of all, though, I’m grateful for the flavour that these walnuts will add to my dishes throughout the year.  Free food is good.  Good free food is even better.


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