When arriving for the first time in Bozevce, I remember people telling me the only place where I could have mobile data and internet was at the walnut tree. So I looked around and very fast, I could locate the well-known tree that overhangs the property. Whatever the season, the majestic tree is cut into the sky and offers a marvelous picture to walkers in search of network . . . and network there was indeed!
Was this tree magic? Soon I realized you can have access to the network there because it is a bit above the houses, where signal is accessible. Not so magic in the end… But when looking closer to it, network is the least interesting thing one can find at the walnut tree and it is a magical tree for a thousand other reasons.
Its scientific name is Juglans regia and although historians do not agree whether it has Persian or Asian origins, we know now for a fact that cro-magnon men were using walnuts more than seven thousand years ago. The genus Juglans includes about twenty species of walnuts, all bearing edible fruits. Its growth is fast and it can reach about 25m, which makes the one in Bozevce a pretty old walnut tree, judging by its size. Moreover, one has to wait 5 to 6 years before a Juglans Regia produces walnuts, and if you have ever been to Bozevce in autumn, you well know that the tree on top of the hill brings us a profusion of nuts around October. Talking about autumn, let’s have a closer look to a walnut tree, and not just any, over the seasons…
The harvest of fresh walnuts start mid-September and in the first days of October, dried walnuts can be picked up directly at the feet of the tree.
This tree, together with others around the property, give us an abundance of walnuts in autumn. We rarely consume them fresh, even if it is possible, and we rather make them dry so that they last the winter. Once dried, walnuts are delicious in salads, in cakes or in salty meals. However, this January, as the weather outside was very cold, we decided to take some time to make something that, back in the time, was considered as precious as gold: walnut oil. Before electricity, walnut oil was used to lighten up houses as well as cathedrals and was employed by painters for their art and bourgeoisie for their body care. In Bozevce, we will probably use it mostly in salads because of its fine taste and its properties when it is not heated. But how to make walnut oil?
First of all, that walnuts have to be dry in order to be cracked. That’s the first step of the process and the one that takes the most time; a Georgian proverb even says “When you give someone a walnut, give them something to break it”. The shell of the nut can then be stored and used to light up a fire, it makes sorts of mini bombs.
Once the walnuts are free from their shell, one has to check their humidity and adjust it. For instance, when we made the walnut oil, we added 4 spoons of water per kilo and let the walnut absorb the water for two days in a plastic bag.
Then, the process of making the oil starts. In Bozevce, we have a little press that we can use for all kinds of seeds and nuts to make oil. It is a hot press, meaning that it needs a source of heat to function; in our case, we lighted up a candle under it during the whole process of pressing. Before pressing the nuts, we cut them in small pieces so that they would not block the entrance of the press.
Then the magic proceeds: under the press, the oil starts to drop and on the other hand, a dry paste goes out. As nothing goes away in a walnut, the paste can also be used: we made a walnut cream, by adding a bit of water and sugar, and we stored the rest in the form of a powder, in a jar and we use it in porridge or cakes for instance. As for the collected oil, we put it in big jars and are still waiting for the decantation process to be finished before transferring it into bottles.
Once collected, walnut oil has to be poured in a dark colored bottle and consumed within a year because it can easily become rancid, which would be a pity after all this work!
Walnut oil is only one of the numerous use one can make of walnuts. There is so much interest in this one nut that for the past 50 years, scientists and industry experts have gathered annually at the University of California, Davis, for a walnut conference discussing the latest walnut health research. Not being a scientist, I will not dwell on the numerous benefits of walnuts, but because of its wealth of fibers, proteins, polyunsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals, walnuts can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, have memory enhancing properties and bring a large range of nutrients to its consumers (among other properties). For instance, because of its richness in polyunsaturated fats, walnuts are a good ally of vegetarians by being a source of the essential fatty acid omega-3, which makes the walnut tree even more important for us in Bozevce! In the XIth century, some royalties were even paid in walnut setiers (old measure for grain).
What about the other parts of the walnut tree? I have been focusing on the nut itself because I am still dreaming about cracking them, but it is not the only interesting item in the walnut tree! Indeed, the leaves, the trunk, the roots but also the walnut stain, which is the green envelope that holds the shell, can be of use.
The walnut stain is very coloring and you might have notice the dark spots on your hands after collecting walnuts. A brown dye can be extracted out of it, which is used on any kind of wood, as a natural colorant, and is appreciated because of its resistance to light and its lack of smell.
The trunk and branches, the wood so to say, is sought for its strength, its fineness of grain and its ease of being sculpted and is mostly used in cabinetmaking and not in carpentry because of its high cost. As for the roots, they are employed in veneering.
Finally, leaves are an interesting part of the walnut tree. At first, together with the roots, they can have a negative impact on their direct environment because they produce juglone, a molecule that prevents other plants around to sprout and breathe, and can even have an impact on mammals. On another hand, thanks to this substance, walnut leaves keep away ants, flies and bugs and once turned into slurry, they are a natural herbicide against aphids and caterpillars. In Greek and Roman antiquity, walnut leaves were used to poison fish in order to facilitate fishing, but if well processed, they have also antiseptic and pain-relieving abilities. Moral of the story, do not leave walnut leaves fly all over your garden, but if the walnut tree is a lonely tree in a wide land, such as ours in Bozevce, leaves can stay under it, they will help to nourish the walnut itself when decomposing.
After extracting some liters of oil we were quite satisfied already, but when realizing all that can be done with every inch of a walnut tree, I realize we still have much to do and to learn! Now, when I go towards the walnut tree to find signal, not only do I see a beautiful tree, but also the unlimited resources it offers, silent guardian on top of the hill.
Emmeline, Bozevce, February 2022