Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fruit of the Yard

Behind our house - beyond our narrow back yard and mostly hidden by trees - is a fenced area that contains two dilapidated chicken houses.  There hasn't been a chicken nearby for at least twenty years, but there they stand - or lean, as the case may be.  

I briefly considered cleaning them up and raising chickens, which seemed like what we ought to do on Green Acres.  I was picturing myself, dressed in a pink peignoir a la Ava Gabor, scattering feed to the chickens and calling them each by name.  But then my dad mentioned how much he hated having to clean out the chicken house when he was a kid, and my imaginary wardrobe changed to overalls, gloves and rubber boots, with a pitchfork and a wheelbarrow of chicken . . . refuse.  So forget the chickens - because actually this post isn't even about chickens.  It's about what we found behind the chicken houses . . .

Fruit trees!  They haven't been cared for since before the chickens flew off to Capistrano, or wherever chickens go, so we harvested a grand total of seven pears and two apples.  The pears were delicious - so if anyone knows what needs to be done to encourage fruit trees to produce, we would be grateful for all advice.  

We also discovered that those strange green pods growing on the tree down by the garden are black walnuts.  That tree is producing like crazy, so we are being overrun by walnuts.  Harvesting them is a multi-step process involving removing the outer green layer, washing away the gunk (for lack of a more technical term), drying, cracking and, finally, picking out the meats.  The "gunk" discolors skin, clothing, sinks, counter tops, sidewalks and anything else it contacts, so we did our shelling and rinsing in a wheelbarrow in the driveway.  However, because the residue is a natural herbicide, we had to be careful where we dumped the rinse water for fear of killing grass, flowers and garden.  Also, the outer layer and "gunk" can be toxic to dogs, so that adds another layer of caution to the process.  And when we're done - our first batch is still in the drying stage - we will have tons of black walnuts, which I'm not even sure I like.  We have tried giving them away, but it seems black walnut trees are pervasive in SE Nebraska, so no takers.  

However, I found this recipe for a salad served at a White House State Dinner that includes our new-found bounty of nuts, plus pears and goat cheese.  Maybe I should raise goats and make my own cheese . . .
  • 1/4 cup Black Walnuts, toasted
  • 4 cups (1 large bulb) Fennel, fresh, chilled, cored, tops removed sliced into thin strips
  • 1/2 Red D'Anjou pear, quartered, cored, cut crosswise into thin slices
  • 1/2 Green D'Anjou pear, quartered, cored, cut crosswise into thin slices
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinaigrette
  • 1-2 ounces Goat cheese, farmstead, small crumbles

  • Place fennel, Black Walnuts, and vinaigrette in mixing bowl. Gently toss with your fingers to evenly combine and coat ingredients.Arrange equal amounts of red and green pears to form an overlapping ring in center of each chilled salad plate. (The ring should be hollow in the middle, allowing room for fennel to be placed inside.) Divide the fennel/Black Walnut mixture into four equal portions; then artistically mound each portion in center of the ring of pears. The presentation should look natural and somewhat loosely stacked, allowing the ring of pears to be seen.  
    Garnish by sprinkling goat cheese crumbles over the salads.

  • 3/4 Cup Olive oil, extra virgin
  • 1/2 Cup White balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Honey
  • To taste, Kosher salt and black pepper
  • Place ingredients in plastic container; cover with lid and shake vigorously to evenly blend.


  1. Thats the swallow that go to Capistrano. Your so funny! Those recipes sounds delicious. I have no tips on the fruit trees. The Black Walnut sound wonderful.

  2. Lucky you! Fruit trees would be wonderful to have, especially established ones. That recipe sounds good. The presentation sounds a little fussy/fancy, but I like the flavour combinations.

    As for raising goats, that might be fun. It would be a whole lot easier if you could convince the goats to hand over the milk rather than having to take it from them. I've seen a few goats milked. It's entertaining, to say the least, but only for the spectators. ;)

  3. That's so cool!!! How often to you find hidden treasure in your own back yard!

    I think I would stick to going to the local market for goat cheese though - I can only imagine the work involved in raising, cleaning up after, gathering milk, and making cheese!!