Back from a harvest-time weekend in Brandenburg, here’s the full report! As you may have noticed from the last, photo-only post, I was in the small village of Lichtenberg near Neuruppin, about an hour north of Berlin, visiting relatives whose front lawn is currently being showered with walnuts from their neighbor’s black walnut tree, which hangs over their property. The common understanding of fallen-fruit rights in Germany is that any fruit that falls on your lawn is yours to keep (I’m not a foraging lawyer, so don’t take my word for this). Anyway, we filled this bucket almost to the top and our kind relatives said we were welcome to take them back to Berlin with us, as there will surely be more falling onto the lawn soon.
The photo above shows how the walnuts looked as we gathered them from the lawn. It was like an Easter egg hunt, but with hundreds of eggs. Below, the neighbor’s tree with a few remaining walnuts in their disintegrating hulls.
On a side note, our relatives grew a very large pumpkin. It looked great with its golden yellow skin, which matched the many golden blossoms surrounding it.
It would have had some large brothers and sisters, had one of my relatives not accidentally driven a car over half of the plant, amputating one of its arms.
On another foraging note, the corn harvest was in full swing in the countryside this weekend. There was actually a little cornfield right across the street that was standing when we arrived but was gone by breakfast the next day. We had big plans for gleaning some corn to grill for dinner. Unfortunately, the corn in every field turned out to be overripe, bug-ridden and starting to dry out. The reason: most corn in the area is grown for animal feed and is not harvested early when young and sweet. However, we did see a man drive up to the shorn field at the edge of the village to glean corn, presumably for his pigs.
At least I can console myself with our wonderful bag of walnuts. We can’t eat them yet, because unlike hazelnuts, walnuts need to rest awhile before they taste good, so we plan to stash ours in the cellar for a month. However, I know they’ll be good, as we were given a big sack of walnuts foraged from the same tree a few years ago. Around that time, Mark Bittman published his recipe from French walnut tart in the Times, which I happily put a few cups of our walnuts into. It’s a great consolation if you are an American living in a land with no pecans and miss your pecan pie in the fall.
In case any of you also manage to forage some nuts, here is the recipe for the walnut tart. A good thing to know about this tart, which will be apparent to anyone who’s been exposed to the sweet-salty trend that’s overrun America, is that it’s based on caramel, and that caramel is deliberately enhanced with a good pinch of salt stirred right into it, plus a sprinkling of salt at the end. I omitted the latter last time, but if I had some fancy flaky French sea salt, I would go for it!
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s recipe
1 unbaked tart crust * in a 9-inch pie pan (in a pinch, you could use a 25 cm springform pan)
1 stick (115g) butter, plus more for greasing
1.5 cups (200g) sugar
1/2 cup (240ml) cream
2.5 cups roughly chopped walnuts (there should be large chunks)
Salt to taste, nice sea salt if possible
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Blind-bake the crust as follows: tear off a piece of foil twice as large as crust. Fold it in half and smear it with butter; lay buttered side onto crust. Weight foil with a pile of dried beans or rice (these can be reused for this purpose) or a tight-fitting ovenproof pan that will sit flat on the surface. Bake 12 minutes, then remove foil and weights and continue to bake at 350 degrees, until crust is a beautiful shade of brown, another few minutes. Remove and let cool on a rack while you prepare filling.
2. Put sugar in a heavy, medium-sized saucepan or deep skillet with a tablespoon of water and turn heat to medium. Cook, gently shaking pan occasionally, until sugar melts; then cook, stirring occasionally and scraping sides with a heat-proof flexible spatula, until mixture turns golden.
3. Turn heat to low, then carefully add butter and cream (mixture will splutter and form lumps). Cook, stirring constantly, until butter melts and mixture is uniform again. Stir in walnuts and a large pinch of salt. Refrigerate for about an hour, then sprinkle with a little more salt (if you like) and serve.
Yield: 8 to 12 servings – Mark warns that it’s so rich, you should start out with little slices and wait to see if people can handle seconds!
* If you don’t have a favorite piecrust recipe, here’s a NYT video on piecrust. It’s for a two-crust pie, so for the tart, halve the ingredients. You can also add one egg yolk and a spoonful of sugar, since tarts benefit from a richer crust. If you’re in Germany and using German flour, beware that it is much tougher and gluten-rich than American flour. If you use it for American-style pie crust, you’ll get the hardest pastry you’ve ever eaten – not good. I always use 2/3 all-purpose (404) flour and 1/3 cornstarch when baking pies in Germany.