Walnut – The Fruit Blessed with the Cross Sign

By Adina Dosan (adinamitiMarch 4, 2015
Have you ever looked inside of a cracked walnut? I’ve often done that, but it never occurred to me to see what it was so obvious: the cross shape between the two kernels.
Gardening pictureWalnuts in shellI’ve always wondered why walnuts are used in all the Romanian traditional foods we cook for special religious feasts. The answer is easy now, after figuring out about the cross shape inside these fruits. Every church or monastery in our country has at least one walnut tree or more growing in their garden. Moreover, walnuts grow in almost every garden in our villages, in the parks, not to mention the huge walnut orchards. I can find walnuts anytime at any store or at the market, packed in bags or not packed, shelled or not. I can buy any quantity I want, although the price has gone much too high lately. However, the price is lower than of the other nuts, thus it is more convenient to buy walnuts.

Walnut trees in the park during the fallBut this wasn’t always the case. There was a time when walnut trees were frequently cut down for their valuable wood, especially the old ones. Since 1954, they have been protected by a special law and can’t be cut down without a special authorization and only in certain circumstances. Thanks to this law, many new walnuts were planted and walnut cultivation spreaded all over our country.

Walnut is the fruit of the Juglans regia, also called the English or Persian walnut, a nut tree in the Juglans genus, Juglandaceae family. Walnuts are round, single-seeded stone fruits, covered in a green husk which cracks when the fruit ripens, revealing the brown stone fruit. The two seed kernels are enclosed inside the hard shell, separated by a hard partition. Yet, the two halves are in fact one because they bond together through their middle part, in a cross shape. The kernel can be pulled out only by cracking the shell with a hammer or nutcracker. Kernels are covered with a thin brown seed coat which contains antioxidants, in their raw form. If roasted, the antioxidant properties are lost. Walnuts are a nutrient dense food, containing protein, dietary fibers and fat.[1]

Walnut full kernel showing the tough partition inside Half and full walnut kernel Walnut kernel split in halves with the hard partition on one half
Raw walnuts have medicinal properties, due to the omega3-fats, amino acid l’arginine, copper, manganese, molybdenum, biotin, they contain. Only one quarter cup of walnut kernels provides the daily recommended value of omega3 fats.[2]Walnut kernels in a bowl

I am, as are all Romanians, very religious. I respect and follow all our traditions, especially those of almsgiving. We believe in life after death, so we give away for alms part of our meals, on special occasions, for our deceased relatives. Besides bread, meat or cheese and fruits, we cook some traditional desserts on our special religious feasts, of which we first give away for alms and then eat with our family. All traditional desserts contain walnuts, so no matter what, I must have as many as I need for cooking the traditional desserts. The most challenging dessert is the dough cake with walnut filling (“cozonac” in Romanian), which I bake at Christmas and Easter. Americans call it a nut roll.

Another sweet meal I cook with walnuts, on several occasions each year is “coliva”, a sort of barley porridge.

Moldavian muceniciLast, but not least, are the most delicious cakes I bake on March 9, when we celebrate the Forty Saints Martyrs of Sebaste. This is a very important religious celebration of forty soldiers in the Roman army, which were killed by drowning in a lake, because they didn’t give up on their Christian beliefs. In their honor, tradition says we should cook and give away for alms some special and delicious eight-shaped cookies called “mucenici” (pronounced moocheneech) in Romanian, which means “martyrs”. The figure-8 shape is a symbol for the human figure, thus symbolizing the Saints.  Mucenici are cooked differently, depending on which of our geographical region are made. In the Moldavia region–in the eastern part of Romania–people bake figure-8 shaped dough cakes, also called “Mucenici Moldovenesti” or “The Little Saints”. In the Muntenia region–in the southern part of Romania–people make small pasta dough figure-8s that are boiled in a sweet soup, like noodles. The soup symbolizes the lake where the martyrs died. Even though I live in the Muntenia region,  I make both the Moldavian Mucenici and the little noodle saints, because we appreciate both in our family. I need about two pounds of ground walnuts for all these “mucenici”. If any of you would like to try the recipes of our Little Saints, here they are:

Little Moldavian Saints-Moldavian Mucenici


Rising dough For the dough
2 cups all-purpose flour(1/2 Kg)
0.6 ounce compressed fresh yeast (25g)
1/2 cup melted butter (150g)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk (250 ml)
2 eggs
2 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of each vanilla and rum flavoring

For the syrup
1/2 cup granulated sugar (150g)
1/2 cup water (150 ml)- 1/2 zest from 1 orange
1 teaspoon of each vanilla and rum flavoring

For the topping
1 cup honey (250g)
2 cups ground walnuts (500g)

Make the dough first. Mix the yeast with a tablespoon of sugar, until it gets liquid, then add a spoon of flour and stir well, like beating. Cover it with a napkin-cloth and put it in a warm place to rise, until foamy, for 15 minutes.

Sift and measure the flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the flour, pour the warm milk, eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla and the grown yeast into the well. Knit the dough well, then cover with a napkin-cloth and allow dough to rise in a warm room for 1 hour or until doubles volume. Do not set bowl on radiator or in a hot place. Keep away from draughts. Allow dough to rise until doubled in bulk.

I use my food processor to make the dough. Pour the flour into the processor’s larger bowl and add all other ingredients, including the fresh yeast, crumbled. I turn on the food processor for 1 minute, while pouring the warm milk and melted butter, until it forms a ball inside the bowl. Then put the dough in a large bowl, to double vin olume, as said above.

TIP: For bread, mucenici or other simple doughs, if kneaded in the cooking machine, fresh yeast will get activated without the previous foaming, just crumbled. 

Meanwhile, preheat the oven. When the dough has doubled in volume, divide it into several equal parts, about 12 to 14. Take each part, make 2 finger thin ropes. Press the two ropes at one end, twine them together, press the other end and give it the shape of the figure 8. Stick very well the ends, by pressing.

Making two thin ropes and sticking them at one end  Twining the two ropesTwist the twine ropes once  Press the ends of the ropes and form the eight shape

Then put the cakes in a pan and let them double in volume, for another 20 minutes. Bake into the preheated oven at 180C (350F) for 30 minutes, until golden-brown. Meanwhile make the syrup: boil together the sugar, water and orange zest. Let cool. When the mucenici are ready, take them out of the oven and, immediately, dip one by one into the syrup for a few seconds, on each surface, to get moist.

Moldavian Mucenici rising in the pan Moldavian Mucenici baked Dipping a Moldavian mucenic into the syrup

Arrange them on a tray and let cool, then cover each with honey and roll it in ground walnuts.

Moisten little Moldavian saints in a pan Moldavian little saint covered with honey over the ground walnuts bowl Moldavian Mucenici covered with ground walnuts

Little dough eights on cooking paperLittle Saints Soup (Mucenici Soup)
Ingredients for the ‘mucenici’
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup tepid water
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
You can also use any other small pasta shapes you can buy from the store.

For the soup
3 quarts water
1 cup sugar, at your taste
1 cup grounded walnuts
2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
1 pinch of lemon and orange zeast
vanilla and rum flavoring
Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and water in a mixing bowl, make an elastic dough, rather tough, and knead it for a few minutes. If it sticks, add more flour. Shape dough into a ball, cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour. In Romania, we have a special 8-shaped instrument for making the little saints.I roll the dough on the table, about 5 mm (0.2 inches) thick, then cut out the eights.

Cutting out dough eights with the special instrument for mucenici Dough eights(mucenici) on the table Dough eight in my hand close-up

Fishlike handmade mucenicBut the instrument is rather new, it didn’t exist when I was a child, so my mom used to make mucenici by molding them with her fingers. She would pinch small pieces of dough (as it goes between 3 fingers), roll it between her hands into a thin rope, about 1/4 inch (6 cm) long, which she would wrap arround her finger. She would pinch the edges together, to form a ring, then twisted the middle to form an 8. Most of the times, though, she made mucenici with a fish shape, also a symbol of Christianity. Flour hands and work surface as nedeed. As she finished forming each little figure-8 (mucenic), she would place it on a flour-covered pan or cooking paper. Let dry for a few hours (better a day before cooking). Fill 3/4 of a 3 liters pan with water, add a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil.

Little Saints soup in a bowlWhen it begins to boil, drop the pasta shapes into the liquid, bring to boil again, then lower the heat to moderate. Stir gently to be sure the pasta shapes don’t stick on the bottom of the pot, then let boil to low heat for half an hour, if they are homemade. Otherwise, boil them according to the instructions on the package. If using homemade pasta shapes, they will normally be cooked once all are floating from the top of the water to the bottom. Add sugar to taste, bring to boil again over high heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat and let cool. Add cinnamon powder, the lemon and orange zest, vanilla and rum flavoring.TIP : Avoid using the white part of the lemon and orange, which will make the soup bitter.

Stir 1/4 of the ground walnuts with 1 to 2 spoons of cold water until moistened, then add into the soup pot and stir well. The soup will turn white and thicker. You can transfer the soup into a large bowl and place it in the refrigerator until cool. Serve in bowls, with a spoonful of ground walnuts and cinnamon powder on top.
[1] – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walnut
[2] – http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/05/19/7-walnuts-benefits.aspx

  About Adina Dosan  
Adina Dosan Adina is a Romanian plants and pets addicted, always happy to share her experience. Follow her on Google.

Hugelkultur is an old German concept/word meaning “hill-culture”. Wood is buried under topsoil (either in a hole or right on the ground) and as it breaks down, it holds lots of moisture and provides sustained nutrients for plant growth. Some more awesome benefits of Hugelkultur is that it greatly increases the available organic matter in the soil over time and for those of us with alkaline soils, which are mainly found in the more arid areas (which coincidentally is where water retention is greatly needed) the hugelkultur bed will release negative ions as it decomposes which will increase soil acidity.

Many people are using these beds for vegetables, but they are great for Fruit trees and windbreaks since the decomposition leans towards the fungal side and not as much the bacterial side as in compost.  This is more natural for trees and bushes, whereas compost is more natural for grains, grasses and vegetables.

The basic concept involves digging a trench and putting logs covered with branches and then covering that with smaller stuff such as straw, weeds, compost etc. that will provide an initial nitrogen source. The mound is covered with the soil that you dug out.  You can dig a pit, trench or just start at ground level with your mound. This is a great way to turn an old stump into a benefit.  Water will be retained by the wood acting as a sponge for roots to tap into while also releasing nitrogen and other nutrients to feed the trees. The soil is loose because of voids left by the decaying wood and gives great aeration for your newly planted trees and bushes. Because of this your trees and bushes will send down deeper roots, quicker and be much less susceptible to drought. Once established the amount of irrigation water required is substantially less than normal.  Combining this method with swales to capture our scare rainwater and snowfall and you have a win-win for your trees.

There are lots of good resources on the internet and several great videos to show and explain better the concepts and actual application.  Below I have listed a few:

Here is a Youtube that is a good and simple introduction   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbFGK_kFt00&feature=youtu.be

This one explains more how it saves water  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mibKS_Bdolg

This page is tremendous!  It show tons of good photos and different methods in action and also tells best and worst types of wood to use.  http://www.inspirationgreen.com/hugelkultur.html

For a while now we have wanted a more defined entryway to the nursery and orchard.  We have watched the lay of the land and the usage patterns to determine the best location.  We all agreed that we wanted something in a southwest style but not too formal.  Because the age old building style of a ramada is eco-friendly and uses sustainable resources this was our choice. The fact that since it is native wood and you require no carpentry skills to look good, never entered into our minds. It’s crookedness is what gives it the rustic charm!  Shade is always at a premium so with this covered entryway we can grow vines over it to give us some much needed respite in this type of weather.  The pergola or “ramada” is approximately 10 foot wide by 20 foot long and 9 feet high. When needed it is still big enough to get a pickup through. Hope to get it finished Saturday and post some more pictures

Russell measured and dug holes, checking the hypotenuse to be sure we were straight

Russell measured and dug holes, checking the hypotenuse to be sure we were straight

The same was done on the left side

The same was done on the left side


Tying posts together with support poles

Tying posts together with support poles

Support posts in place enough to hold things together. We will go add a few across the center portion

Support posts in place enough to hold things together. We will go add a few across the center portion

Added a few latillas to check spacing.  We think every 6 inches looks about right

Added a few latillas to check spacing. We think every 6 inches looks about right

With our last post we showed some older pictures from planting pecan seed in April. Now that we  are  almost in July, they are starting to emerge.   I think its a good idea to become familiar with how a pecan seed germinates and grows in its natural environment. At left is a photo of a germinated pecan. To germinate, the seed must first imbibe enough water to swell the kernel and crack open the shell.  As the seed starts to grow, a vigorous tap root is the first structure formed. Shortly thereafter, a smaller, wiry shoot develops and grows upwards, poking through the soil surface. In nature, a new pecan seedling will invest most of it energy in growing a massive, deep tap root. Above ground, first-year pecan trees rarely grow more than  8-12 inches in height and produce only a hand full of  leaves. This growth pattern is the tree’s way of ensuring seedling survival. Between fires, floods, grazing animals and brush hogging, seedling pecan trees often lose above ground parts. By storing a massive amount of plant energy in the tap root, a pecan tree can easily replace a lost top with a new sprout.

Caution and Constant are the words when weeding young pecan trees

Caution and Constant are the words when weeding young pecan trees


Several types of trees are planted or started from seed.  They may go on to be rootstock for other, better quality varieties or they may be grown for their own merits.  This is a process planned well in advance.  In early we fall we received our pecan seed.  It was sourced from the northernmost range of the cold hardy pecan in Iowa.  We then needed to cold stratify the seed.  Seed Stratification is explained by the following:

— A type of imposed dormancy found in seeds is internal dormancy regulated by the inner seed tissues. This dormancy prevents seed of many species from germinating when environmental conditions are not favorable for survival of the seedlings. There are several different degrees or types of internal dormancy. One type of internal dormancy is “shallow” and simply disappears with dry storage. Many vegetable seeds display this type of dormancy. No special treatments are necessary to overcome this kind of dormancy.

However, another type of internal dormancy requires special treatments to overcome. Seeds having this type of dormancy will not germinate until subjected to a particular duration of moist-prechilling and/or moist-warm periods.

Cold stratification (moist-prechilling) involves mixing seeds with an equal volume of a moist medium (sand or peat, for example) in a closed container and storing them in a refrigerator (approximately 40oF). Periodically, check to see that the medium is moist but not wet. The length of time it takes to break dormancy varies with particular species; check reference books to determine the recommended amount of time. This type of dormancy may be satisfied naturally if seeds are sown outdoors in the fall.

The problem with planting in the fall is they easily become food for squirrels and gophers!  We soaked the seed 24 hours in warm water to start the breakdown of the shell and then kept in the fridge at about 34 degrees in damp peat moss.  In early April we planted our pecan seed.

Planting is rather straightforward.  We pulled existing weeds and rototilled the 50 foot row.  After that we added about 2” of compost and rototilled again.  A rake gave us a nice smooth seed bed to plant in.  These were placed horizontally at 6” spacing.  Placing vertically on Pecan, Hickory and Walnut gives a poor germination rate.

After planting we replaced the drip tape and mulched with straw about 3-4” deep.  Pecans and many nuts will germinate and grow roots for a few months before actually starting any upward growth.  Almost 2 months exactly and we are seeing the first tree break ground!  We will field grow these for this year and containerize in the dormant season for sale or to use as understock for grafting.


After rototilling 3" of compost is added

After rototilling 3″ of compost is added


Seedbed is raked and ready to plant

Seedbed is raked and ready to plant

You are never to young to plant a tree

You are never to young to plant a tree

Time to put that knowledge to work!

Time to put that knowledge to work!

Summer Grafting Get-Together

When: July 12th
Time: 9:00am to 11:00 am approx.
Where: At Road’s End Farm
What: An informal class on using T-Budding and Chip Budding techniques for warm weather grafting of fruit trees.
This is an informal, outdoors, hands on group setting to learn how to use these styles of grafting to propagate fruit trees.
Why: To save grandma’s heirloom peach tree, to get an exact replica of that “perfect plum” you don’t know the name of, to make a “fruit cocktail tree” with multiple types of fruit on one tree. Or just for fun!

Bud GraftWe will be focusing on Pear, Peach, Plum and Apricot and we expect to have another event in late August on Apples. RSVP is a must and seating is very limited for this one. Send an email to reserve your spot to NMFruitGrowers@aol.com and you will be selected in the order received. Again this is not a demonstration, it is a hands on, get dirty, you will graft some trees, event!
There is no tuition cost on this class to the selected participants. We ask you bring your own very sharp pocket knife or a box cutter type knife, water, hat etc. Dress for the weather. We will supply all other items. You can collect budwood from our orchard or bring your own. We will ask for how many rootstock you will need and these we will charge $4.00 each (our cost) as a potted plant. We will send instructions on collecting and saving your own budwood.

We have raised and sold Goji plants ( Crimson Star cv) for many years now.  The benefits of this China native are many healthwise and they are considered one of the superfruits. Culturally we find them easy to grow and one of the few berries or plants that do fine in a high (8+)  ph. Fresh or dried these plants have a lot to offer and should definitely be part of a permaculture plan.  In our research we have found very little information on how care for and grow for best production.  The normal method is to stake the plant with a 5-6′ pole, training it upward and then cascading down.  Similar to many weeping trees. This appears to be done mainly for harvesting convenience, since most of the berries will be chest high.

As I was reading an article on cordon training currants and gooseberry for higher production, it came to me that goji would lend itself to this just like grapes, kiwis and blackberry.  So off to another project!  We had an empty 25′ row in an old bramble berry section and I added 6 new plants, 5 foot apart.  As with many of my projects, things came up and no trellis was added last year, so I made a commitment to get it done this spring.  The plants had made decent growth last year but were really taking off now and starting to get weedy with many new stems or trunks coming from the ground and several suckers.

I decided to set my first wire at 16″ off the ground and add additional wires at every 12″, so we have off ground 16″, 28″, 40″, 52″ with room to add one more at 64″ as growth dictates.  This will allow main branches to go left and right about 30″ with a central trunk or leader.  Similar to a 4 arm kniffin system in grapes except with 8 arms.

4 more plants to tie and train and then we will watch the progress over this summer and next. I am hopeful that by pruning for production like grapes and hardy kiwi that not only will we get a larger crop, but also a neater and easier to pick one!


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