Making Short Work of a Squirrel's Winter Stores

July 12th, 2020 by Diana Coman

Once upon a time, in a far-far away countryside, we, the half-foreign, part-time inhabitants of a house rather than a tree, had to be quicker and craftier than the local squirrels to get and enjoy any walnuts from all those mighty trees that lined the slopes we used to call our courtyard. We were smaller then and younger then so we didn't care much to make a difference anyway but walnut hunting was serious business indeed - at least for those of us that loved the fruit, I guess. Armed with sticks and nothing else, we turned the leaves around and otherwise we slowly inched our way forwards, one foot at a time, gently setting it down tentatively on the thick blanket of fallen leaves, alert to feel underneath, without breaking it, the tough and round shape of a walnut quite invisible otherwise in the very place where it belonged - where it simply blended in, just another fallen thing from the same tree, like all the rest.

Once a walnut found, we'd take it as it was and keep it alongside others directly at our breast, full of dirt for sure, with remains of decaying, soft, once-green covering still hanging in tatters around its not yet dry shell otherwise. Sometimes the squirrels had gotten to it first and we'd know it as soon as we lifted the walnut for it felt too light and then it showed easily the little hole through which the goodness inside had been taken away already - what was left, feeling way too light in our small hands, was simply a bit of almost wood, something to throw perhaps in the stove as easy offering to a young and still hesitant flame but nothing more.

When we - or rather our tops - couldn't carry anymore, we'd go and unload them all in a pile, letting them dry for a while, out of the reach of our reddish competitors with furry tails and marble eyes. Then we'd clear away the last remains of the soft coverings, we'd eat our fill and set the rest within metal wire containers made especially for the purpose - for the storage of all dried fruit was up in the attic, where squirrels could and did get at times but where the heat from the stove downstairs would make the air both dusty-dry and fragrant otherwise with the aromas of everything set up there as dry preserves. And on cold, white winter evenings, when bored of our games or simply made hungry as only that mountain air can make children hungry, we'd climb through the squeaky trap-door of the attic into that store-room of our own and bring downstairs anything we wanted to snack on, for it was rightly ours after all, won fairly and squirrely. We ate most of it too quickly to allow for much preparation or further cooking otherwise and in fairness all that fruit really was perfect exactly as it was - at least perfect for us, the biggest squirrels in that neighbourhood at the time.

Meanwhile I grew up and I went far away from those walnut trees, those slopes, that old attic with its squeaky trap-door and dust dancing in the filtered light of early afternoons. I'm not really hunting for walnuts on the garden floor either, though possibly I'm still a bit of squirrel since I still like walnuts quite a lot - it's only that I got now way better ways to get them all cleaned up and ready to eat, waiting for me in a bowl at any time. But since there's abundance of walnuts, as well as time freed up by not having to hunt for them one by one, I take the opportunity at times and make short work of a whole squirrel's winterstores in one go, just scroll forwards for the pictures of this one single batch out of many and deplore those who have no idea what they are missing.

It all starts with walnuts - lots of them, but set out in batches neatly on a cutting board, for heartless crushing with a rolling pin (well, a rolling pin makes it easy but if you want to sweat it out, use whatever else you can find around, sure):


While walnuts are getting crushed, sugar - brown or otherwise - gets heated in a pan until it melts and is quite ready to take your skin off if you are silly enough to touch it directly. This is definitely an activity entirely not "safe" and otherwise fully discriminating against the unexperienced (as well as the idiots) in the kitchen - I therefore enjoy it all the more and use it at times to scare any silly kids around, age irrespective:


Crushed walnuts get then tipped into bubbling sugar-lava and a wet wooden spoon is most useful to mix it all up quickly enough so it sticks together without gluing your spoon to the pan itself (you can use your finger instead, if you fancy it burnt to the bone, sure):


Tip it off back on to the cutting board that meanwhile got washed and is therefore nicely wet (so you don't end up needing to scrape it all off the board). Wet a big knife too - the bigger the better, especially if you have to scare anyone away at the same time - and flatten the hot but quickly setting mass into whatever shape you want, cut it into pieces of the exact size and shape your heart desires, set them onto a plate and try to find the camera before they all vanish mysteriously behind your back:


We used to call the above walnuts-in-caramel sweet "susan" and that would stand for "sesame", though happily I can fully testify that it has nothing whatsoever to do with sesame, indeed!

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3 Responses to “Making Short Work of a Squirrel's Winter Stores”

  1. whaack says:

    "won fairly and squirrely"

    Aha, I did a double take.

    Yum, if I can find the walnuts here maybe I'll give this easy-but-dangerous looking recipe a shot.

  2. Diana Coman says:

    In principle I guess you could make it with any nuts you can find - obviously the taste won't be the same and I would think the sweetness of the caramelised sugar does go better with some than with others but other than that, nuts + sugar can't quite end up horrible unless you burn it or something (and yeah, if you don't want to burn it, have a good pan, keep the fire as low as possible and just give it a bit of time, that's about it all).

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