In the writing room right now ...

In the writing room right now ... I am working on book #3 in the Winds of Freedom series, a teen adventure series set in the 1850s in North Danville, Vermont. My 1852 Vermont adventure THIS ARDENT FLAME is scheduled for June 2021 publication with Five Star/Cengage -- I will give you updates and early order information as soon as I know! I'm also writing a memoir; revising a mystery; in the midst of a novel about a grandmother and her granddaughter; and always writing poems. Yes, I guess I do like multi-tasking! How about you?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Butternuts: A Kitchen Story

butternut tree

We have an enthusiastic Waterford History group that meets at the local library, the Davies Memorial Library, here in Vermont. Part of our tradition is to consider all of us to be "amateur historians," and we all make discoveries -- in the attic, in old books, behind stone walls suddenly glimpsed through November's bare woods. So each meeting begins with going around the circle, making sure anyone bursting with a new discovery (or, more likely for us, reservedly admitting they've made one) can speak up.

Somehow, last summer, we got onto talking about the old trees that are vanishing. Elms are one of them, of course; every New England town used to have some of these giants, but most were felled by a parasite known as Dutch elm disease, and few remain. Another one (I am sure it was Helen who mentioned it) is the butternut -- and people put their memories and ideas together to talk about where they might have seen a butternut tree in the past decade.

Then, of course, memories of cracking open (actually, smashing with a hammer) the tough nuts came from the oldest among us, who remembered what hard work it was! "I had a recipe for a chocolate butternut cake that was wonderful," Geneva mused. Her relatives asked, "Do you know where it it?" "No," Geneva said with a smile.

(see top recipe)
After the meeting, I went searching for butternuts online, and discovered Native Nuts, a small local firm about an hour away, up by the Canada border (website here). Brigitte at Native Nuts allowed me to reserve two pounds of butternuts from the fall harvest. Then one of Geneva's daughters asked for a two-pound addition. "They should be ready around November first," Brigitte advised.

Next came the recipe question. I didn't find a butternut cake in my own books, so I asked Lois, who has a lot of old recipes from her family. She sent me this one, from Hood's Practical Cook's Book for the Average Household, published around the end of the 1800s. "Add two squares of melted chocolate to turn it into a chocolate cake, she advised.

Today the nuts arrived! As soon as you touch one of the ridged, hard, tough exteriors, you understand why they are smashed with hammers, not politely cracked over a bowl. I'm looking forward to trying this, but ... not alone! I'll save my half of the nuts for the next meeting of our history group, which is in February, weather permitting. It clearly takes a village to prepare a cup of butternut nutmeats for this recipe!


Unknown said...

My Dad said he wanted to taste a butternut again before he died, so I went out and bought a burlap bag full. If you can crack one of these with a hammer, I'll be impressed. I tried and swear the hammer flew back faster than my downward swing.

I think perhaps they need to be put in a vise to crack them.

I got one open, Dad ate it and said, "That's a butternut." So, I made the rest into Christmas ornaments with paint and beads.

I'd love to plant a butternut tree in my yard, but they grow very big and need space.

Beth Kanell said...

What a great story -- I'm glad you could do that for your dad. The trees are not easy to grow, since they succumb to a disease most of the time ... better to buy a bag of nuts for the memories.