Gathering Walnuts

The Scheckel farm on Oak Grove Ridge near Seneca in Crawford County had 10 walnut trees in the hill pasture along ShortCut Road. We always looked forward to the annual gathering of walnuts.

As fall approached, we kept track of the walnuts falling off the trees.  We traveled past the walnut trees several times a week on our way to Seneca.  When it was time, we gathered up milk pails and gunny sacks from the granary, the burlap bags we used for corn and oats.  Off we would go to the hill pasture.

Our hill pasture was special.  We drove our milk cows on the gravel road and pastured them during the day in spring, summer and fall. The hill pasture was just a few feet less than the highest point in Crawford County.  A few years after I left the farm, several agencies, including the Wisconsin State Patrol, built a relay tower on the highest point, which was just a few hundred yards from our property line.

Looking north from our vantage point on the hill pasture, we could see the steeple of Utica Church on Highway 27 north of Mt. Sterling.  The top of the Lansing bridge could be spotted above the terrain to the northwest.   We could see all the way back onto Oak Grove Ridge, the farmlands of Bernier,  Ingham, Suttons, and Fradette. The Payne, McAreavy, and Aspenson farms were fairly close. Further to the east was the Elmer Stove farmstead with its immaculate white buildings and white board fences. They kept their bright red Massey Harris ’44 tractor in spic and span condition.

Phillip, Bob, and I would pick up a bucket full of walnuts, pour them in a gunny sack, and tie off the gunny sack with binder twine. We’d walk home and ask Dad to take the tractor and wagon or the pickup truck to load up the gunny sacks and bring them back to the farm.            When we were old enough to drive, we boys could retrieve them ourselves.  Age did not determine when we could drive a truck or car.  If your feet reached the pedals, you could drive.  Dad and Mom didn’t allow us to drive to town, but we could drive on Oak Grove Ridge Road and on the roads around our farm.  “Fearless Fred” Brockway, Crawford County deputy sheriff,  would not be patrolling on Oak Grove Ridge.

The walnut sacks were unloaded on the cement apron east of the Big Barn.  The walnuts might stay in the sacks for several days until we had time to tend to them.  Then the shucking began.  Walnuts were poured out of the sacks onto the concrete, and beaten with a board, that loosened the shell or peeling around the black/brown walnut. Walnuts were picked off of the broken casings and put in a pail or bucket.  Our hands got really badly stained, almost pitch black.  That stain would not come off in soap and water, so we wore our walnut stained hands for several days as sort of badge of honor. Even went to school with stained hands.

The shucked walnuts were stored in metal tins in the basement.  We cracked walnuts in the wintertime, and put them in fudge candy that we made on the stove. Some went into brownies and cakes.


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