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Green walnut

This is the story of a French walnut tree and a trip to Georgia over 30 years ago. First Georgia. I went there with Gog Theatre and our play Birdman in the late eighties. From the moment we arrived, after a 3 day train journey on the Yerevan Express from Moscow, we were plunged into fabled Georgian feasting and singing.

Georgia 1

Gog meets the Young Rustaveli Theatre Company

Every meal was a momentous event. Even breakfast.

Georgia 2

Breakfast table

When it was time to leave and I thought I was packed (very heavy bag), my host family appeared with presents that they absolutely INSISTED I had to take with me: 2 bottles of heavenly Georgian wine, several packets of fragrant Georgian tea from the shores of the Black Sea, and a large jar of homemade Kaklis Muraba – delicious sweet pickled walnuts. Thus I brought the taste of Georgia home, and the memory of it can transport me straight back to that wonderful country and its people.

Fast forward to the Dove in 2020 and the French walnut tree. It had started life on a steep slope in the Gorges du Tarn, several years after my Georgian trip. It arrived via a friend, and I planted it on the meadow where it grew imperceptibly – until, it seems, this year. Lockdown arrived, and so had the walnut.

Walnut tree 5

Walnut catkin up close

Walnut tree 4

Young leaves. The colour reappears in the wine – see below

Two months later, its first proper nut crop started to appear

Walnut tree 2

and it hit me: the memory of the taste of Georgian Kaklis Muraba. It was June, the perfect time to pick walnuts for pickling, and it was lockdown, so I had plenty of time. I found a recipe on the internet and set to the day after Solstice. First peel your walnuts:

Pickled walnuts 1

My solstice walnuts, peeled and soaking

Pickled Walnuts 2

Still soaking 2 days later, but some colour change!

Soaking goes on for 6 days, and while I waited I kept picking walnuts. It’s the best thing to do here, I’m stealing a march on the squirrels. Here are some more walnuts steeping in vodka with lemon zest, spices and sugar to make Nocino – the Italian walnut liqueur

Nocino 3

Nocino first steps

A by product of all this activity: boiled up walnut peel to make ink

Ink the colour of the walnut chest brought to me from Pakistan by my sister many years ago

Walnut chest 3

I couldn’t stop! I started soaking leaves for walnut leaf wine

Walnut leaf wine 1

The strained liquid came out this colour. From green leaves. Going to be some wine

Walnut leaf wine 2

Still waiting for the walnuts to soak (that is how they lose their bitterness as you have to keep changing the water), so I started to delve into the the background of the walnut. First, its name, Juglans. Juglans goes back to Jovis Glans, or ‘nut of Jupiter’. It was considered to be a nut of the gods, and the Greeks had got there first with their myth of Dionysus and Carya. Dionysus fell in love with the nymph Carya, and when she died he transformed her into a walnut tree. Artemis carried the news to Carya’s father and commanded that a temple be built in her memory. Its columns, sculpted in wood in the form of young women, were called Caryatides, or nymphs of the walnut tree. The word for walnut in Greek is Karydaki. In many traditions, including indigenous American, it is seen as a sacred tree: magical, medicinal and edible. Not to mention its use as a strong, durable and beautiful timber. Pretty good going! To finish this brief summary, I’ll quote Culpepper, who says’ This is a plant of the sun. Gather it while green, before it shells.’ So I did.

Walnut tree 3

A Plant of the Sun

I just need to look at all these colours together once more, for this week has been as much about colour as taste

 

It’s also been a trip around the world, from my kitchen:

Georgia France Italy Pakistan Somerset

Postscript: I bottled the pickled walnuts yesterday: they taste AMAZING.

 

 

 

Mayday Trees 13

It’s the first of May, four and a half months since we planted the trees on Wild Lea, and high time for an uplifting catchup on their progress. In a word, miraculous. Planted into solid clay, rained on solidly for two more months, then subjected to increasing drought – and they are (nearly) all still there. We’ve lost maybe 4 or 5, but they could sprout later too. The oaks have been a bit of a worry as they are only just now starting to show any sign of life.

Mayday Trees 11

An oak showing signs of life

Contrast this with the two oaks that came from people’s gardens, with a more developed root system and a different planting method because of that (hole dug rather than slot planting). We’ve been told that oaks like a two slot planting – in the shape of a cross – so that the ‘glaze’ of the wall of the clay is broken. Good advice for the future.

All the rest of the trees seemed more than fine with the slot planting, in fact that method plus lots of hay mulch kept them pretty damp even through the dry spell. And ALL the willow cuttings in the Willow Walk have taken! Here’s a quick round up of a selection of trees:

Mayday Trees 14

Crab apple – rather a special one from the Orient! Seems happy enough in the Occident.

Mayday Trees 10

All the birches in the Avenue bar one have survived, though none has put a head above the parapet yet

 

Mayday Trees 5

Here’s an Alder that HAS ventured forth….

Mayday Trees 12

And a VERY happy Hornbeam!

Mayday Trees 9

This Yew made it, though one of the 3 Yews planted in the Dove corner didn’t; it was a seedling dug up from under a hedge, so not all garden reared trees are superior. I don’t think we dug up enough of its root system

And lastly, a Dogwood and a Hawthorn. Both bursting forth.

I hope all this makes everyone as happy as we are! With more time on my hands, my daily walk is around all the trees, so I’m keeping a good eye on them. We have plans in progress for watering. This week we were saved by the rain, but it wasn’t nearly enough to keep them going for long, so we have bought a large farm-sized water container, and also made sure that our water trough is working and available. The container will go on Dan’s trailer and we’ll get to all the trees that way.

When present restrictions on movement loosen up, we are planning to invite everyone involved in this project to an Open Day. Can’t wait!

We are already thinking about Stage 2 planting: the Wood. Not just thinking, but doing; Maya was alerted to some oaks that needed a home as a local nursery had been forced to close, so she and Cara planted 20 up by the entrance to Wild Lea, ready for the Woodland planting next Autumn. We’ll be in touch about that again, and will be looking for volunteers/benefactors again, and arranging another inspiring and heartwarming planting weekend.

 

 

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