Route de la Noix – Perigord, near Sarlat, Dordogne

Sorting walnuts on the conveyor belt

Sorting walnuts on the conveyor belt

We were driving through the Perigord region of France a few weeks ago and realised we were on the ‘Route de la noix’. It was a lovely golden coloured day and walnut trees covered the fields on either side of the road.  Walnut orchards are an important part of the Perigord landscape. Walnuts have been cultivated in the Perigord for centuries – back to to early modern humans, 43,000 years ago. In this area the process of cracking the nuts and harvesting the kernels is called the ‘Denoisillage’.  In the old days, the walnuts were cracked with a boxwood hammer in front of the fire by the older women.

We stopped at a farm to buy some fresh nuts and were lucky enough to be able to  watch the whole process of sorting, drying and dehusking of the nuts.  ‘La Grandjean’, la Corne, and ‘la Franquette’ are the three authentic walnut varieties grown here and have the AOC label of ‘Noix du Perigord’ to protect the quality. Although this looks like an industrial process it really is on quite a small scale – and as the farmers above said, no-one gets rich growing walnuts. A beautiful area and worth visiting.

Walnuts with their green husks

Walnuts with their green husks – this machine dehusks the walnuts

We bought 5 kilos of lovely big Grandjean walnuts – only to discover the walnut season had also started in our area of SW France.  Our neighbour’s grandfather planted walnut trees on the perimeter of his fields and she invited us to come collecting nuts with her. So now we’ve got walnuts coming out our ears. Her walnuts are smaller and a different variety and have a slightly different taste.

Walnuts that have been dehisced

Walnuts that have been dehusked

The route is a fascinating meander through the walnut orchards of the Perigord area and there are lots of lovely places to stay and eat http://www.fermedupech.com/index.html

More info on the route here http://www.noixduperigord.com/gabarre.html

Collecting walnuts  - ready for the industrial dryer

Collecting walnuts – ready for the industrial dryer

The Walnut season is here in SW France

Walnut trees line the road

Walnut trees line the road

Autumn is the time of year when local people collect walnuts. Farmers have always cultivated a few walnut trees to use as a valuable source of food and to supplement their income.  We went walnut collecting with our neighbour and must have gathered at least 5 kilos!

Walnut booty!

Walnut booty!

Our hands were stained brown by the end of the afternoon after removing the outer casings on some of the walnuts. Walnuts go particularly well in a salad with roquefort cheese and make delicious bread and oil.

Walnuts drying in the sun

Walnuts drying in the sun

Jon made some absolutely delicious walnut and honey soda bread from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s bread book – really worth making, here’s the link: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2007/oct/27/recipes.foodanddrink I made a walnut tart with maple syrup, honey, eggs and a shortcrust pastry using orange juice and zest. Very very rich – there’s still some lurking in the fridge. I’ve just read that walnuts have good cholesterol lowering properties – so they’re not just for Christmas eating!

Fresh walnuts

Fresh walnuts