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Toughest Nut to Crack: the Gold in Black Walnuts

December 7, 2012

I worried that our friend who fed The Cat one night while we were away over the weekend wouldn't get just how significant our token thank-you was. But her emailed reponse nailed it: "Black walnuts are like gold." And she's so right. Black walnuts have the most intense and distinctive flavor; the flavor will transform any recipe calling for regular (AKA English) walnuts. Eating them is like tasting the past before the Puritans. And they are seriously hard to come by. We stumbled across these nuggets at the farmers' market in Rittenhouse Square on Saturday, for the shockingly affordable price of $3.75 a half-Baggie (usually they're marked up crazier than prescription drugs). The young Amish farmer selling them said his 80-year-old father who can no longer work the fields painstakingly picks out the meat. But extracting the meat from the tight crannies in those tiny nuts is almost the easy part compared with just cracking the shells. When I worked at the NYTimes last time, and black walnuts started popping up in the Greenmarkets, we assigned a reporter to investigate just how tough that is. Trust us: Buy them shelled, if you can even find them.

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