Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Suisun Sundays: Walnut season in my neighborhood

It starts with a pop, crackle, and crunch underfoot. That's how I know it's walnut season.

The sound of walnut season inevitably comes when I'm walking my dogs, taking groceries out of the car, or otherwise not paying attention.

I live on the suburban edge of a historic farming community about an hour north of San Francisco. Here it's not unusual to see someone pulled over on the side of the road gathering walnuts from an abandoned tree that once belonged to an orchard. The tree doesn't know it has been abandoned and produces fruit year after year. In nearby Suisun Valley, a few old walnut orchards still thrive amid the row crops and grape vines, and on a hot summer day it's worth the drive to sit on the edge of the orchard with its grafted trees and afternoon sun slanting into soft shade. Golden California hills surround the spot, with quintessential oaks agreeably standing by.

But the walnuts strewn on my street are not from those orchards or the abandoned trees along the roads, but a solitary walnut tree in front of a 1960s apartment building two blocks from my house.

 Photo courtesy of

This time of year, the local crows take the fallen walnuts to the tops of telephone poles and drop them on the sidewalk or the street. If that doesn't crack them open and release the meat inside, they drop them in front of a moving vehicle. It's a pretty handy trick.

As for me, once I know it's walnut season, I begin looking for errant walnuts missed by the crows. When I find them, I crack them open with my foot, but not for the crows. I crack them open for my 16-year-old dog that has always loved walnuts. If you give him a walnut, or even a piece of one, he takes it in his lips and carries it gingerly to a special place to savor it.

I love walnuts, too. For the last few years, I've been ordering seven pounds of shelled organic walnuts by mail. It's enough for holiday baking and Christmas gifts, and will last in my fridge until next year's season. I share the nuts with my old dog, but the crows are on their own.

Here's a related article I wrote about an organic walnut farm for the San Francisco Chronicle:

Enjoy your walnuts!