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

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!

What:    Fruiting Tree and Plants Fundraiser For Youth Group
Where:  wood’sEnd Church Parking lot  in Edgewood
When:   This Saturday June 2nd, from 8:00 am until 1:00 pm.
Why:     Help raise money to send young kids to summer camp
This year we are taking our plants off farm for one day and offering them to the public.  A portion of the proceeds will go to the wood’sEnd Church Summer Youth Camp Program.  Trees and plants will be available in the wood’sEnd Church parking lot this Saturday morning, June 2nd.  wood’sEnd Church is located in Edgewood on the west side of Highway 344 just north and across the street from Wal-Mart and south of the library.  So tell your friends and spread the word for a good cause in our community! 

It looks like spring is finally here.  Now we can get to growing all those items we researched and ordered over the long and cold winter. Each year we plan to add some new groupings or varieties of certain fruits to start our trials and breeding programs with. As the breeding or research continues we will probably add 1 or 2 new varieties to each group per year for further study.  The plant world is an ever changing and improving thing and we are fully involved to find and provide the best adapted toNew Mexico and similar climates.

Last year we started 8 different fig varieties.  It is early in the year and with the super freeze this winter our results as yet are not fully known with figs,  however it looks promising that we will have several varieties that can be overwintered in our area with minimal adaptations to environment. The University of California at Davis, National Clonal Germplasm Repository kindly donated 24 new (to us) varieties as cuttings this past spring for our experimentation.  We hope to find at least 4 that are suitable for outdoor production here. 

The next grouping we are working with is Pomegranates, one of the newly designated ”Super Fruits” promoted for all it’s health benefits.  We are working with a few American varieties and some cold hardy Russian types which show great promise.  We hope this summer to add 2 other kinds from Russia or Middle East. 

Juneberries and Honeyberries are 2 groups we also  have added to this year.  In the honeyberries we will be crossing 2 Russian varieties and testing 3 Canadian types which have been newly released from the University of  Sasckachewan program.  Juneberries we will trial 4 proven fruit types to see which is most adaptable.

In tree fruits (and nuts) we are working with various Mountain Ash and their crosses along with Almonds.  In the almonds we are trying varieties imported from the Ukraine and Russia to get a later bloom time that will hopefully escape our erratic springtime freezes.

Seaberries and goji berries are being added to with hopefully some selections available for sale this fall.

As time permits we will expand on our writing and findings in each of these groups