The walnut tree was the king of the garden. It was the tallest and the most magnificent tree. It was the only tree in the garden that I could not hug on my own. Throughout the year it rose undisturbed on a slight hill at the back of the garden, yet every autumn the garden life would centre around it. As nothing grows under the walnut tree, did you know why, it was a perfect spot for piling up the leaves and having bonfires. And the best thing about the bonfires was surely a baked potato dug out of the hot ashes and eaten then and there under the walnut tree after a hard day of garden work. At the start of September I would be excited to look for the first walnuts. Sitting in their hard green hulls they were a real challenge to get yet the greatest treat to have. Once I cracked and removed the tough green layer, flaked the fine fibre net off the shell and got my fingers all yellowish on the way, I would tackle the nut. Breaking the shell with a stone and then carefully peeling off the light green skin. It all took time and came at a cost but the taste of the white fresh walnut was worth every minute and every stain. As the autumn came, there were more and more walnuts and we would harvest them every day. The hulls would turn darker and easier to remove and the fruit would turn drier and more mature.  We picked the walnuts into large wicker basket and once it was full we took them to the attic and spread onto old newspapers to dry. Day by day and batch by batch we brought the nuts into the kitchen. My grandpa, Bronek, was the nutcracking master and I was the nutcracker apprentice. He cracked the nuts open and I picked out the nut meat. My grandma, Zosia, in a rather squirrel fashion popped them into storage tins and tucked away for later in the larder. 
The fertile and abundant walnut tree in our garden inspired one of the most famous and favourite of my grandmother’s cakes. The walnut and coffee cake. When Zosia was perfecting the recipe year after year, little did she know about the nowadays trends of using local seasonal ingredients and gluten-free baking. And yet the cake ticks all the boxes. It is the cake of all my childhood celebrations – birthdays, namedays and anniversaries. Making it now brings back the memories of my grandfather grinding the nuts, of my grandmother beating the eggs and of my eight-year-old self licking the coffee cream out of a big blue mixing bowl. Visit https://soniasstoryge.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/under-the-walnut-tree/ for the walnut and coffee cake recipe.

This post was originally published on Sonia's Storyge.

https://soniasstoryge.wordpress.com

Published by Kat Targosz