My, last week’s offering certainly did yield quite a few reactions from readers, more than I could ever have imagined and certainly more than the paltry pile of nutmeat I harvested earlier this fall.
When it comes to my scribbles, I think I derive the most pleasure by telling you a good story, the sillier the better, whether it be one drizzled with nostalgia or one from more recent times.
My concrete-hard-shelled hickory tale certainly elicited some reaction. Among those who took the time to weigh in on my topic, six stood out, either for their insight into improving my shelling technique, for their humor or for their memories so pleasant and so long ago. Unlike the impetuous young, we seniors know the past is a wonderful place to visit.
One reader, Jim, told me he laughed his you-know-what off while reading of my adventure with hickories and said I should spend a day with his mother-in-law, who cracks three bushels’ worth every winter, using just a carpenter’s hammer and “some really tough hands.” Knowing the amount of sweat equity I had to expend just to produce about an eighth of a cup full, I am in awe of this woman, who stands atop the hickory-nut world, a modern-day Colossus of Rhodes.
Gerry Geise weighed in and provided a very detailed explanation as to what method works best. He began by listing the tools needed — a claw hammer, a 16-inch piece of railroad iron, a nut pick and a metal pie pan.
I could tell immediately when Gerry began the process explanation how flawed my procedure was. He started, “Allow the hickory nuts to dry. If you have a furnace with ductwork, you can set the pan on the ductwork for about a week.” Hmmm, I waited about 10 minutes from the time I gathered the nuts from the yard and driveway.
He went on to describe the process of putting the nut on the railroad iron and holding it on its edge before cracking the nut with the hammer. Gerry told me that this would facilitate picking the meat out without all those shell fragments I encountered.
Gerry went on to say that if I did the process correctly, it would be possible to pick out each half in an unbroken piece, with each resembling a butterfly. Trust me, Gerry. There were no butterflies involved in my work!
At the end of the email, Gerry gave me a chuckle for the rest of the day when he said, “Of course, if you don’t have patience, I suggest doing something else!”
I found a kindred troubled spirit in Dan Gorman of Columbus Grove, who commiserated that he also has gone through his hickory struggles. He recalled his grandmother, who once upon a time made sugar cookies with a perfect hickory half in the center of each cookie. He marveled at the memory of his grandmother’s technique of using just a small hammer with an axe blade on the other end to produce unbroken hickory halves and lamented that he didn’t spend more time watching and learning and perhaps a bit less time eating the cookies. That lament is one so many of us share who spent a whole lot less time than we wish we had learning from those who helped to raise us.
And, then there was Don Marik, who found some limited success collecting the nuts, shelling them and using them in a cake. Don told me, however, that, like my brownies with the slightest trace of hickory flavor due to the paucity of my shelling efforts, his was about nine parts cake and one part hickory!
For a couple of my lady readers, the column brought back wonderful memories about grandparents. For Cindy Howe, it was a tough nut of a grandfather who used to crack another tough nut, walnuts, using a vice. Cindy recalled a grandfather who was a man of few words, so when he summoned her or one of her sibs to help him with his walnut work, back in a time when it certainly did take a village to raise a child, somebody was about to get a good talking to!
And, for Meredith Fessler, who grew up east of Lima on a farm in Allen East Mustang country, the column brought to mind a grandmother who routinely trudged out into the woods with bucket in hand in search of hickories to shell and use in her confections. Meredith told me the column inspired her to dig out one of her grandmother’s recipes. That’ll be the easy part, Meredith!
Thanks to all who weighed in and for making a small-town columnist feel pretty good, and during this, the season we all give thanks for our manifold blessings, I wanted to acknowledge that fact.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.