Family interest in walnuts began one New Year's Eve when my dad dressed up as Father Time and his father-in-law (or soon to be FIL) dressed up as Baby New Year. Sadly, there is no photo-graphical documentation of this party that I am aware of. Anyway, my dad invented "alternative walnuts" leaving guests to wonder how did that penny get inside my nut?
During my childhood, alternative walnuts were resurrected to expand our celebration of the holidays. One day, I innocently grabbed a walnut from the constant Christmas stash available in the kitchen. Cracking it open I found raisins and an exceptionally innocent-looking father gazing on.
Alternative walnuts enjoyed a brief resurgence, entertaining cousins, aunts and uncles alike, even making appearances in other people's pockets, houses and nut bowls. The longest known surviving alternative walnut lasted, I believe, into the spring, when a family friend absent minded-ly cracked it open. It spilled mini M&M's across her kitchen floor and he heart into her throat. People began keeping careful watch.
So the tradition ended again, the secret spoiled. Dad started working early mornings instead of the 4-midnight shift. One is much more motivated to perfectly crack nuts and glue them together again over beer at 1am. It's hard to find time to do such crafty cleverness when one now must wake up at 3am.
There are many more layers to this phenomenon that I could explain even if I had the time and word count. So I will jump to the Tuesday part.
My dad grocery shops on Tuesdays. He always has as far as I can remember. I think he would often hit a different store for a few things on Saturdays, but I can't be sure. He has his way about him, my father. And so, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving we could guarantee the appearance of walnuts in the house for the holidays.
Upon pointing this out, dad was quick to counter that some years he would buy walnuts the Tuesday before the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. If the Tuesday before Thanksgiving falls less than one month before December 24th (i.e. Thanksgiving is on the 27th and so the Tuesday before was the 25th) it would be too "late" to buy the walnuts and so he would purchase them the week before. Maybe it also has something to do with the moon.
Anyway, once we grasped this not so confusing, but really quite confusing, concept it became crystal clear when the walnuts would appear. Apparently the nut does not fall too far from the tree and so one such Tuesday, I called my family from college and wished them a clever, "Happy Walnut Tuesday!" The great holiday was born.
As I like to think, my dad was so inspired by my coning that he ran full steam and started getting sneaky again. Walnut Tuesday wreaths (yes, we made one) appeared mysteriously on his brother's door. His sister (long time Catholic church secretary and capable choir member) revamped a popular hymn walnut style and sang it to us on the answering machine. Alternative walnuts reappeared with fortunes inside. I made walnut turtles and turkeys. My mom made intricate three-dimensional walnut-shaped cookies. Someone wrote, "Twas the night before Walnut Tuesday," which, if I remember correctly, was read at the first Walnut Tuesday dinner. Such was the event that my dad (remember how he has to get up at 3 am?) took off the following day so that he could fully imbibe in the festivities.
Which began including squirrels. And walnut measuring and comparing with reigning champions and contenders. And walnut liqueur. And always champagne. Because what is Walnut Tuesday?? A celebration of creativity and a kickoff to the winter holidays, the walnut a vehicle for the nutty. It welcomed anyone who understood it including one of my mom's harp students who just happened to be at our house on the Monday before Walnut Tuesday. (The year my uncle and his husband surprise gifted my father a taxidermy squirrel with an acorn in its mouth.) She was hooked.
Upon the dawn of social media, people with little knowledge or involvement began to wish me Happy Walnut Tuesday via text and Facebook. My mother-in-law sewed for us, not just one, but two walnut themed table linens. I had to explain it to my kids. Every year, I received questions, not only from them, but from all sides of my life. Which Tuesday is it this year? What are you doing to celebrate? I saw a walnut tart recipe and thought of you! Have you ever made one?
It became clear that we really had made up our own holiday, one many did not get at all. But they got that we got it. And that was enough.
We celebrated at least four dinners over the years. We ate walnut crusted chicken and green beans "walnutdine." We started with blue cheese and walnut spread and green salads with fruit and, stay with me now, walnuts. And my sister, once she moved away, started hosting her own dinners with friends. They, too, embraced our holiday and welcomed it to Philadelphia (worrying my dad that Walnut Tuesday was becoming "too commercial.") In recent years, it was my sister's crew that has really kept the momentum going (oh, the energy of the young and childless!)
This year isn't looking great for the walnuts. My sister is on her honeymoon. And a critical mass of us are so rarely together on the day anymore that the wind has gone out of our squirrel-y sails. I know my dad will still buy a bag though. And I will try to, as well (though walnuts might be too exotic for Ohio. I'm kidding new Ohio friends (if I still have any after they read this...)) Maybe my sister will find some walnuts in California (she did include them on her wedding invitation, hazaah!). Haha, maybe my dad secretly sent her off with some...
You never know. The walnut has waxed and waned over the years. It's just the way of it. Cycle of life type stuff. But fear not: it's not dead, it's just hibernating.
Waiting for the next crazy thing we come up with...
Happy Walnut Tuesday, everyone!!!