On October 3rd, the PNGA converged in Lancaster, PA for the annual fall board of directors meeting, followed by an orchard tour at Jere Groff’s house. After a hearty meal of pulled pork sandwiches, chicken stew, and homemade ice cream (topped with home grown honey walnuts!), we headed outside to see firsthand a true Pennsylvanian nut orchard.
There was a nursery of grafted trees, chestnuts descended from the Dunstan chestnut project, carpathian walnuts that could be cracked in one’s palm, hickories, pecans, butternuts, and hazelnuts.
I had the opportunity to sample my first ever hickory nut, and I was surprised by how good it was. It was very similar to a pecan. If I had been blindfolded, I would not have known the difference. I also sampled my first butternut. I was struck by the enormity of this beautiful old tree that had managed to stay healthy while most other butternuts in the area were succumbing to disease. For years I had looked for an edible specimen, only to find hollow shells, the trees too sick to produce seed.
Butternuts are in the walnut family and aren’t easy to crack open. Some say they don’t even taste that good. But this week I learned the secret to good eating. You have to remove the husk while it is still green. If it begins to blacken, the juices seep through the nutshell and taint the flavor of the nut. Like the hickory, I cracked it open with a hammer and ate it raw like the Native Americans did. The flavor was delicate and pleasant. Another sample had begun to turn black, so I followed the advice I was given and roasted it first. It tasted like popcorn.
Check out the gallery for more photos of the tour.