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The other day when I reached for my neat little sterling silver nutcracker, immediately my mind flashed back to wintertime and how we cracked nuts then. Since we are into the winter season and nearing the Christmas holidays, I would like to share with you a few of the primitive ways that we resorted to in order to get the delicious meat out of our nutty shells. And I might add that the elaborately decorated man standing so stately in the bright, red suit is a far cry from the crude instruments that we used back in the day.

To me, cracking open nuts and fishing for the meat is so much more enjoyable eating than picking the naked nuts from the thin, see-through cellophane, store-bought package. At least, I think so.

At any rate, here’s how our nut-eating feast goes. The first thing you need is a hammer. That’s right, that housing construction instrument that drives nails into wood. Without a hammer, you won’t get very far especially when you have to crack those black walnuts and concrete-hard, golden brown hickory nuts. I have a nutcracker that looks like wire pliers. It works on English walnuts and pecans, but it never would have cracked those hard-headed wild, country nuts. Actually, I doubt very seriously if these two little babies can be cracked with that handsome little man who stands at attention in that nut-cracking canister.

The next thing you need is an iron — not the smooth, fragile modern-day iron but the old-fashioned, almost too-heavy-to-lift cast iron. The kind that is like lifting weights for a scrawny little kid like me. To do the trick successfully, you have to put this contraption on your lap (upside down) so the smooth, flat underside is on top. Then, when the iron is sturdy and the nut is being held securely between your fingers, a hard, quick whack is made with the hammer.

If that doesn’t get it, you may have to whack it several times, especially for the black walnuts and hickory nuts. This is the indoors method.

The outdoor method is my favorite part of bustin’ nuts. When it was an unseasonably warm day and we wanted to have a nice outing, we’d take our batch of hard-to-crack nuts out to the yard to two of the biggest rocks I’ve ever seen in my life. They were like two tables — large enough for us to sit on. We’d position the nuts in one of the recesses of the rock and give it a good whack. This method is fun and far more effective than holding an iron in your lap or trying to burst nuts on the not-so-solid wooden floor.

On unusually cold days when it was a little too miserable to go out to the big rocks, we did our best to crack the nuts on the floor. It worked sometimes and sometimes it didn’t — depending on how set in its shell that nut is.

We didn’t have anything safely sharp to pick the meat out except our kitchen knife. It came in handy when we didn’t have an ice pick or any of my dad’s pointed-end, car repairing tools. And I must admit that as good as nut meat is, with the crude instruments with which we picked out the meat, we always ended up having to leave some inside the shells. Those leftovers were for the birds. All creatures have to eat, and we weren’t so selfish that we begrudged the fragments going to our little feathery winter creatures. So the nutcracker worked well for us and for the birds too.

Photo by Fotolia/perlphoto