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The Walnut In Myth & History

 

Walnut Tree The walnut is one of the world's most venerable foods. In Périgord, from Peyrat to Terrasson, excavations have brought to light petrified shells of nuts that were roasted during the Neolithic period, more than eight thousand years ago.

Around 2,000 B.C. in Mesopotamia, the Chaldeans left inscriptions on clay tablets revealing the existence of walnut groves within the famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon. There is evidence of walnut consumption dating from the same era on carved stelae containing the Code of Hammurabi, in a section devoted to food.

In the Old Testament, King Solomon speaks with delight of visiting his walnut grove: "I went down into the garden of nuts to see the fruit of the valley" (Song of Solomon 6:11).

The Walnut Cookbook The walnut appears in Greek mythology in the story of Carya, with whom the god Dionysus fell in love. When she died, Dionysus transformed her into a walnut tree. The goddess Artemis carried the news to Carya's father and commanded that a temple be built in her memory. Its columns, sculpted in wood in the form of young women, were called catyatides, or nymphs of the walnut tree-so the tree furnished the image for a famous Greek architectural form.

The very name of the walnut tree and its nut comes down to us from the Romans. Juglans regia (walnut tree) and nux juglandes (the walnut) stem from Jovis Glans or the Royal Nut of Jove. The word for nut itself derives from the Latin nux or nucleus (fruit of the shell), with a suggested derivation from nox (night) owing to the dark juice of the nut, which was used to dye wool.

The walnut and the oil extracted from it, therefore, have been known since ancient times. Theory has it that the walnut may have disappeared in parts of northern Europe during the glacial period but was then reintroduced by barbarian invaders and by Greco-Roman conquerors. Once the tree was reestablished, the exploitation of its products spread steadily through increasing trade.

 

The Walnut Cookbook
By Jean-Luc Touissant
Translation by Michael Hinden & Betsy Draine
Ten Speed Press
192 pages
Paperback, $14.95
ISBN: 0-89815-948-2
Reprinted by permission.

 

The Walnut Cookbook

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This page created January 1999


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