Oct 29th, 2012 by Paul Stewart, Metcalf Foundation Intern
I think I have a new favourite tree to pick. Though these trees are amongst the largest in the city they are the easiest to pick. In October the black walnut tree drops its nuts all around the base of the tree, and as long as you beat the squirrels to them you can easily stoop over and glean a couple buckets of black walnuts in a matter of minutes. While the picking part is easy, the processing of the nuts is a whole other story. Black walnuts can be processed into two products, the husks can be turned into an ink and the nut can be cured for the delicious meat inside. This past week I tried my hand at making black walnut ink.
If you’re thinking about taking this on, be prepared for a messy, lengthy and gross job. To make the ink and get to the meat you need to allow for the husk to rot first. The husk will turn from a greenish yellow to a browny black. The husk will also become populated with maggots.
Once the husks are rotted the next step to making the ink is to remove these rotting husks from the nut. Make sure to wear a pair of plastic gloves ¬†while doing this as the husks will stain your hands. It also makes handling all the maggots more bearable. Place all the husks into a pot and cover them with water. Leave the husks under water for one night.
The following morning set the pot on a burner and simmer for at least five hours. It’s best if you can do this on an outdoor burner because it produces a putrid odour. After the simmering process pour the the contents through a strainer lined with cheese cloth to separate the husks from the liquid. What you are left with is a sepia coloured ink that is naturally colour fasting and requires no additives.
We brought the black walnut ink along with us to last weeks TEDxToronto official viewing party for attendants to try out. We set out along role of parchment and asked people to write what inspires them. Lots of people shared their inspirations. Peoples inspirations varied from “apple pie and butter tarts” to “love, joy and freedom” and “my community, Regent Park”.