I will do what I can to explain to you why I have a nut hoard. You probably will not understand, most people wouldn’t. I will give it my best. I have a beautiful little nut hoard. It is sitting out on my back patio right now. It is strangely satisfying to go out each day to check its progress. ….. what “progress” could a nut hoard possibly be making? Let me explain, from the beginning.
For as long as I can remember I have been a ” looker”, no, not that kind of looker, I mean a looker who looks for things. What sort of things you ask? Hmmmm….. anything that might prove to be useful I guess. It’s a sort of treasure hunt, it’s a creative thing I suppose. I like to find things, it is a way of life. Perhaps it comes from growing-up poor, perhaps it comes from a childhood where I was in charge of entertaining myself, or maybe, it comes from generations of ancestors who were farmers making a living off the land. I do not know, but I am a damn good looker. It’s sort of like approaching life as one giant treasure hunt. There is cool, awesome, amazing stuff, out there just waiting to be found.
I was indoctrinated into the society of lookers by my dad. Sometimes he would announce “we are going for a drive”. THAT was a family activity. He would take us driving on small country roads, because, I realize now, he was a looker too. Sometimes we would find amazing rare wild flowers, sometimes a stand of elderberries soon to be pies, a good fishing hole, brilliant picnic spot. The whole purpose of these treks would be to look for stuff. I remember once we found a whole field of wild huckleberries up on Powderhouse Road. We spent hours collecting those tiny berries. How many other kids do you know who would be entertained for any length of time doing that? A particularly great find was a vast field of wild strawberries in Hornby where I later took a nursing school chum. We picked berries in the hot sun for hours, having to shed clothes at one point to keep from burning to death. Heat exhaustion is no deterrent to a true looker & Donna must have been one as well.
So, back to my hoard, one of the purposes, intended or accidental, of these “drives” was for my dad to teach us about wild things. Among these, I learned to identify trees & their nuts, which ones were edible and which ones were purely interesting to look at and collect for the sake of finding something cool, beautiful, or intriguing, that may prove useful for some, yet to be discovered, future purpose. Ok, back to nuts, so I grew up in the small town of Corning, NY. It is a sweet little factory town that sprung-up around the Corning Glass Factory. Our town has tree-lined streets that I walked every inch of, because when you are a kid you cannot initiate your own “take a drives” so you go on walks to kill time. I knew every street and alley-way along with which yards were the best for “cutting through”, who had old garages that you could play in without being discovered, and who had anything edible growing. I knew every cool and interesting tree in a four block radius around my house. Next door there was a huge catalpa tree, we just called it a green bean tree. The huge green-bean-like pods it produced were preceded by big, beautiful, flowers resembling orchids. These were so exotic and beautiful. When they fell to the ground in relatively good shape they were a great find and definitely worthy of collection. Down on second street between Chemung & Pearl old lady Tupper had a pear tree that always had massive quantities of fruit. At the corner of 3rd & Wall was a huge chestnut tree that dropped crazy-prickly nut balls each of which contained two beautifully shiny chestnuts, but not the kind you can eat. These were good only for collecting, and if you were a boy, throwing at girls. But one block away, on the corner of Wall & 2nd was a true find. A hickory nut-tree!
There was an old guy who lived in this very well-maintained house on the corner of 2nd & Wall. I loved walking by well-maintained houses, perhaps because of the fact that my own was quite a ramshackle eye sore. Amongst my many daydreams was to one day live in one of these beautiful big old Victorian houses that lined the streets of my neighborhood. Our house was once one of these, but something happened and the family, along with the house fell, into disrepair. When doing some genealogy research I discovered that my grandparents had two daughters that died. One as a 10 month old infant, poisoned by a “patent medicine” and the other a 13-year-old girl scout & honor student who went to take a bath at 1:00 in the afternoon & died from asphyxiation from the gas heater used to heat her bath. The story I imagine is that this family of successful Irish immigrants began to fall into ruin after these two tragedies, but I can’t be sure. What does that have to do with nuts? Nothing, but I did like those nice houses, so I spent a lot of time looking at them.
When you are a “looker” you spend a lot of time looking at the ground for things non-lookers drop without notice. This is a good way to find a little cash and one day this paid-off big-time for me at the corner of 2nd & Wall. I found a paper bag filled with $1 bills! I don’t remember for sure how many, but it was a fortune at the time. Holy Jeez wowza I’m rich! So if you’re a kid that finds a bag full of money, you think “this is the spot where people leave bags of cash” and you make sure to include that corner in every one of your walkabouts on the odd chance that history repeats itself. I never found another bag of dough, but on the same block I found a $20 bill in the leaves along the curb in front of Jimmy Sproule’s house…. I used it to buy a black velveteen bikini with a satin lady bug applique from JC Pennys. It was one of the nicest things I ever owned.
OK, back to the nuts, so, along with that fat bag of cash I happened-upon a major hickory nut drop under that same tree. I didn’t know what they were, but they were definitely worthy of collection. So I stuffed my cash filled paper bag to the hilt with these mystery nuts & carted them home to await my father’s arrival from work. When my dad came home from the fire department it was the job of one of kids to take his boots off for him. He plopped his bone-tired self down into his ratty recliner & one of us was assigned the undertaking of un-lacing his huge boots and pulling with all of your might to yank them off of his huge, white-sock-wearing, feet. Then, and only then, could I show him what was in that bag! Hickory nuts, yes, you can eat them. Oh yeah, and BTW, I also found a whole pile of $1 bills.
I spent a lot of time inefficiently smashing those nuts with a hammer on the sidewalk in front of our house and fishing out what crumbs of nut meats remained in the aftermath. I ate them on top of a bowl of vanilla ice cream and it made a lasting memory that remains some 40 years later. I remember exactly what they tasted like, something between a pecan and maple syrup. But, I never found them again, until now, that it is.
Ok, back to my nut hoard. I enjoy picking things up. Go on a walk with me & you will see for yourself. Perhaps you will find this trait quite annoying because it interferes with the purpose of taking a walk, which to some, is just walking & not looking. So I was out walking with my friend Kathy, who I suspect may also be a looker, when I discovered strange nut pods on a tree along the side of the road. I break one open & inside much to my amazement was a hickory nut! I had not seen them still in the pod before because in my previous find, the nuts had already been freed from them. The thing is that I had been fooled by other hickory nuts before, not all of them are edible you see. I have a HUGE hickory tree at the end of my driveway which drops massive quantities of nuts, but they are the bitter, inedible, pig hickory variety. So this new discovery was worthy of some research. Low & behold these nuts were from a shag bark hickory, the kind I have loved, but never eaten for better than 4 decades.
Now here we are at 1512 words and I haven’t said a word about my nut hoard. If you are still reading this I am very impressed, but I am done writing so you will never know about me and my nuts. But here are a couple of pictures to demonstrate why I bother to collect, sort, dry, and crack these amazing gifts from nature….the most amazing breakfast!