SONG News January 2004 no. 67
In this Issue...

Season 2003 ... Nuts!

In this world there are nuts and then there is the expression ... Nuts! This was a bit of a 'Nuts' year ... although it must be said that all growers are a bit hard to please. People of the soil expect, or at least hope in the spring season of each year ... "Yes, this year will bring forth bumper yields on all crops!" Yet, it hardly ever happens that way. Some yields are up and some are down and some are not! It's the same way all over the world. We should not think that we are being picked on.

The year 2003 just might be a message for those who worry excessively about global warming. Remember that this spring started out late, cool and damp. It was a promising spring in that it didn't beg much irrigation and that is a saving. However, the summer hesitated onward, until, as late as August before there was much real summer. Without the 3 weeks of heat in August there might not have been any ripened crop of nuts at all. Otherwise the harvest was only about 7-10 days late ... with some highly interesting irregularities in the order of ripening. The Chestnut crop gave some of the most instructive messages about the impact of global cooling. First the long, consistently cold winter put a lot of stress on trees without necessarily doing a lot of permanent damage, i.e. death! However, some of the English walnuts north of Toronto took some tremendous hits. Anyway for chestnuts, they were slow in leafing out and they were equally slow coming up to blossom time- being 7-10 days behind some of the better years! The flowers blossomed during a coolish irregular time-not notably wet or rainy-but just cloudy, cool, and not very exciting ... to trees or people either. Some chestnuts had no flowers and therefore not much of a crop. Remember the basis of biology: If your parents never had any children, neither will you! Nonetheless, most of the chestnut trees seemed to have sufficient nut/pollen flowers to create a crop. By mid August, when the heat wavelet hit, it looked promising. It kept looking promising until late September when the nuts should have been ripening.

Then October came. Still not many nuts dropping! Fortunately, another heat wavelet came along in October and the nuts started dropping in earnest. We must remember that October sometimes can deliver some fine sunny warm days ... in addition, to lots of fall coloured leaves. It all looked rather good for a few days and then it became obvious that something was missing. The weight of nuts was just not there. The drop period was very quick, short and then there was no more. Yields were only about half the usual!! However, nut size and quality were quite good. Fortunately, the internal breakdown occurrence was at a minimum. At least one mercy. Another mercy was that demand was extremely high and the market was willing to move the price up a couple of notches. When a farm product starts selling at over $3.00 per pound ... well it's almost like selling tobacco without the need for drying and flue curing.

What there was appeared very good quality and what was missing was worth pondering. The first clue was that a lot of the burs were empty. Then, there were a lot of burs which only contained one nut instead of two or three. The good size compensated a bit for the lack of numbers ... but still the crop was only about half weight. It was hard to escape the conclusion that there was a pollination problem in the 2003 season.

Again ... the chestnuts were slow in spring leafing ... an indication of winter damage and also low heat units in the early part of the season. Further, mere was the rather irregular heat unit pattern during the flowering season. When seasons are either cooler or warmer than usual tne biology of dichogamy becomes more of a factor in production success, i.e. fertility. When the difference in blossoming time of nutlet/pollen flowers is accentuated, it increases the chances of a nutlet abortion and crop failure.

Now, is there anything that the grower can do about all of this? Usually, the 3 essentials of chestnut growing have been regarded as: heat, water and nitrogen. These certainly are major requirements for chestnut growing. However, another item might be added to the must have list ... available phosphorous ... with emphasis on the "available" part. All of this suggests adding a bit of super phosphate to the chestnut plantings in addition to all of the other things which chestnut growers do for their trees. However, if you can get $3-4 per pound for the nuts at this rate of a one ton crop per acre, it just may be worth it!

Moving on a bit, it was a sad year for English/Persian walnuts. There was a lot of winter/twig/branch damage. The last winter was long/cold/dry and it caused the branch tips to die by desiccation. The main branches continue to live but the trees will take a few years to re-establish their full crown and canopy of leaves. Two steps forward and one step back in the nature of things are not all that unusual. Perfect year after year performance is not something that is going to happen in nut growing ... or anything else! The main thing with the walnuts is to nurse them back to health-nutrients, water and yes, keep the insects and diseases from attacking them when they are down.

The hazel/filberts were not much of a crop this year. Maybe it was too cold in the early spring when they were blooming but then, who knows? Some years are colder, wetter and more nasty than this one and there have been pretty good crops. May I suggest on this one that you get what you get and nothing more or less!

Heartnuts were the fickle ones this year. Some growers had bumper crops and others had very little and yes, whole nut kernels can still be sold for $13.00 Cdn. per pound! Those who lost their heartnut crops this year probably had a spring frost in early May. Heartnuts have a little bit of frost tolerance but there is always a limit. Heart-nut acreage has been expanding noticeably in Ontario in the last few years. This year's pecan crop proved that the global warmers have nothing to worry about as very few but the earliest varieties ripened. So yes, this last season was considerably cooler than some in the recent past. Yea and verily another ice age is at hand - turn the warmers around and start them marching in the opposite direction.

Almonds were their usual average crop this year and they were ripening in late September/early October that made for very pleasant harvesting. Although the pecan crops were down, the hickory crops were up! Hickories were plentiful at this farm and kernel quality was very good.
Doug Campbell

Creamy Chestnut-mushroom Soup with Sauteed Root Vegetables

1/3 cup dried porcini mushrooms (about 1/2 ounce) you can substitute here
3 cups hot water
2 cups vegetable stock or canned vegetable broth
2-1/4 cups peeled roasted chestnuts (about 1-1/4 pounds) or jarred chestnuts (about 12 ounces), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 small rutabaga, finely chopped
Combine porcini mushrooms and 3 cups hot water in medium bowl. Let stand until porcini mushrooms soften, about 15 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer porcini mushrooms to heavy large saucepan. Add porcini soaking liquid to saucepan, leaving any sediment behind in bowl. Add vegetable stock and chestnuts to same saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes to blend flavors. Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth. Return soup to saucepan. Add cream and 1 tablespoon Sherry. Bring soup to simmer. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Refrigerate. Re-warm over medium heat before continuing.) Melt butter in large nonstick skillet X>ver medium heat. Add shallots, carrot and rutabaga, sauté until tender and beginning to brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon sherry. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls. Top with vegetables and serve. Makes 4 servings
(Recipe from Bon Appetit December 1999
A Cook from Tucson, AZ on 12/28/03 Complex and delicious, a delightful mix of flavors. I followed the recipe exactly, except that I used mixed dried mushrooms rather than all porcini. The mushroom and chestnut tastes are wonderful together and the root veg topping sets them off perfectly

Wild Mushrooms with Chestnuts and Thyme

This rich side dish could easily stand on its own as an elegant meatless main course.
6 Tbsp (3/4 stick) butter
8 large shallots, sliced (about 2 cups)
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds assorted fresh wild mushrooms (such as stemmed shiitake, crimini, and oyster), sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
3/4 cup Madeira
1 7.25-ounce jar roasted peeled whole chestnuts, halved (about 1 1/2 cups)
3/4 cup whipping cream
Chopped fresh chives
Melt 3 tablespoons butter in large deep nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots and saute until tender and golden, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and stir 30 seconds. Add remaining 3 tablespoons butter and stir until melted. Add mushrooms; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute until tender and brown, about 10 minutes. Add thyme and stir 1 minute. Add Madeira and simmer until almost evaporated, about 1 minute. Add chestnuts and whipping cream and simmer until cream thickens and coats mushroom mixture, about 1 minute. Season generously with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl and sprinkle with chives. Makes 10 servings.
Recipe from Bon Appetit Nov. 2002
A Cook from Portland, OR on 11/28/03 Delicious and easy. Couldn't find chestnuts so I used chopped hazelnuts instead (a nice Pacific Northwest addition anyway) and it was wonderful and quick to prepare. Even the person who is not a mushroom-lover liked this dish.

Provided by SONG. Feel free to copy with a credit.