Nut trees grow extremely well in the Central Valley of California. Everyone had a couple of different types in their backyard. We had a couple of English walnut trees. Every Spring they would bloom with long tassels and in the Fall the green husk would start to darken and the nuts would fall. We would gather them up and lay them out on window screens to dry and then spend the days before Christmas shelling them for baking.
They are often grafted on black walnut stock to help prevent disease. These grafted trees line the country roads and the trunks are painted white to alert night drivers of the road edges.
Black walnuts also grew throughout the valley. There is one native species but there are also many trees of the native Eastern US variety. They were a different nut with a very unique wild taste. We used to also gather them up around the neighborhood and dry them in a similar manner. But they were much harder to crack. First the husks were tougher to remove. Your hands would get black and stained from pulling off the husks. The nut also didn’t crack like an English walnut where you could split it and then easily pick out the meat. The black walnuts shell was through out the center and you had to use the pick in a nut cracking set to pull out the meat. We’d also use them in baking but not as much. The most common use was to make divinity which I haven’t seen in ages.
I came across them this holiday season at my local supermarket. The major supplier is Hammon and they must have a contract with Kroger which is why they showed up in my local store this year. I was trying to decide what to make. I was thinking maple would be a good match. I hadn’t made Oatmeal cookies yet this season so I modified an oatmeal cookie to add maple syrup and the black walnuts. Excellent. The maple and brown sugar give the cookie a slight Caramel and the black walnut taste really shines. Fun cookie to bring back older Christmas times.
Black Walnut Maple Oatmeal Cookies
Adapted from Got Milk by Peggy Cullen
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
6 Tbs granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 large egg
2 Tbs Maple Syrup
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup raisins (you could more if you want – up to 1 cup or include chocolate chips)
1/2 cup black walnuts
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a medium bowl, beat the butter and sugars until well combined. Add egg and beat well. Beat in vanilla and maple syrup.
3. Whisk together the flour, baking soda and oatmeal. Add dry ingredients to wet mixing on low until just combined. Stir in raisins and nuts.
4. Drop the dough onto an ungreased baking sheet using about a heaping 1/2-1 tsp. Flatten slightly. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until the edges are golden. They do brown quickly so you will want to watch. Let sit for 5 minutes and then transfer to wire racks to cool.