Friday, May 1, 2015

Butternuts, for Old Time's Sake -- and Next, Rhubarb


Singing makes any task more fun, right?
Last November we were able to purchase four pounds of butternuts from Native Nuts in North Troy; two pounds headed to New Hampshire to catch up with Geneva Powers Wright, and the other two pounds, in a basket, came to visit at a Waterford Historical Society meeting in February, when a few brave folks took a couple of them home to try cracking.

Most of this two-pound batch ended up at my house, and I was glad to catch my son Alexis and his NYC friend Jem as labor for cracking them in March. Based on a description from an East St Johnsbury resident of having cracked them using her dad's workshop vice, we tackled the task with a pair of large screw-type carpenter clamps. (We did test an ordinary nutcracker, and it was totally useless for this job!) Sorting the nuts from the shell fragments turned out to be quite a challenge.

It took the three of us TWO HOURS of steady work to crack all the nuts and set aside the nutmeats -- which added up to slightly less than one cup full. For the April meeting of the Waterford Historical Society, I baked cookies with the little flecks of nuts -- which were delicious, but in every cookie there was at least one tooth-jarring bit of nutshell, and in some there were half a dozen. And we thought we had these well sorted!

I'm glad we tried this, for the sake of knowing how to handle butternuts, which used to be a traditional food in this region, before the trees were stricken by a mostly fatal disease. All things considered, though, I don't think we'll repeat this!

Next on my old-time cooking schedule will be rhubarb recipes, figuring out the best ones for the Waterford Historic House and Garden Tour and Rhubarb Café, being held June 20!

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