My husband and I have had our fair share of cultural differences over the years. He’s a Japanese farm boy and I’m a California suburban girl. (Though technically, at 50, he’s no longer a boy and at 53, I’m no longer a girl.) Somehow, we manage to muddle through.
Building a house together can test any relationship. Ours was no different. One day I noticed huge cutouts around the front and side of the house. My husband, Tadaaki, called them “windows,” I called them “doors.” I won that argument and they put in windows. But now we live in Tadaaki’s family farmhouse and almost all the windows are doors.
Then there was the whole tree issue. Our lot was a chestnut orchard owned by Tadaaki’s father. Tadaaki hates chestnut trees because they attract caterpillars, so he happily cut down a slew of them to open up the backyard. I grew up with a grandfather oak tree dominating our back yard and my father rigged a rope swing on one of its main branches. Gathering up courage to scooch onto that wooden swing and sail out over the lawn below became the rite of passage for many a neighborhood kid. I wanted to recreate that in our backyard.
And so it started: “I want to have some big trees.” (Me) “We can plant some small trees and they will grow big.” (T) I don’t want to wait 15 years to have big trees…I want them now. I’ll pay for them.” (Me) My conciliatory Japanese husband gave in and agreed that I could buy three trees for the backyard. But he continued planting small fruit trees in the front. Because he was patient.
Truthfully, the keyaki grew vertically, so it never was a climbing tree. Nor was it a great swinging tree. I can’t even remember what the name of the 2nd tree was…yamaboshi? I mistakenly thought it had berries. Well, maybe it did, but they weren’t edible. I do love the Japanese maple though, with its branches sweeping gracefully across the brick patio.
But what I really treasure are all the trees that Tadaaki planted in the front yard: yuzu, daidai (Seville orange), Meyer lemon, bay, loquat, date…a mysterious berry tree. And now they all produce lovely things that I can use for cooking or preserving. I should have been more patient.
A couple months ago, my husband dropped a ratty plastic bag bulging with something brown in the middle of my writing projects stacked all over the dining table. “A present,” he said laconically, while lifting an eyebrow, telegraphing that I should be duly grateful for this mysterious manna. I dragged myself off the chair where I was writing. Peering into the bag, my memory flooded back to a similar gift last year: one small precious bag of pecans.
Pecans? Yes, simple, incredible…perfect pecans.
These are home grown pecans--like nothing you have ever tasted. Mmm, my mouth is remembering that first bite last year. The surprise…the tingling feeling of “oh my god this is one of the best things I have ever tasted.”
I dig my hand into the bag of dusky nuts and feel their naturally powdered shells. I take a few out and admire them on my malachite counter. The pecans have teensy brown speckles on their buff shells with irregular dark brown streaks tapering down to the point.
They’re almost too perfect to crack, but I do it anyway. I crack open four. I’m not very good at this, so the nutmeat gets a little smashed. Remembering my French walnut knife, I rummage around in a drawer to find it. I dig out all the meat, collecting my spoils on a small plate normally meant for soy sauce. I pour myself a glass of Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc and sit for a quiet moment. I pop a small piece of pecan into my mouth and slowly bite down, savoring the slightly oily flesh. As I chew, the “pecan-ness” floods into my mouth. It’s nothing like the organic pecans I buy. The pecan reaches deep inside of me so I can taste the heart of the tree.
And my husband grew the trees from nut. Can any of us imagine this? I never understood when Tadaaki told me it would take 20 or 30 years to grow a tree. Why would you do that? Why not just buy something big enough to produce in say, 5 years. That’s pretty long to wait as it is. But now I get it. These pecans were worth the wait.
Twenty-six years ago, Tadaaki bought a bag of pecans in Nagasaki on his way home from a trip he took on the Peace Boat to North Korea, China and Russia. He knew that in the Stone Age people ate a lot of varieties of nuts, so he was interested in trying pecans (he’s an odd guy). The nuts tasted so good, he decided to plant some of them and luckily a few began to germinate. The trees grew for 10 years and never produced one nut. Then about 5 years ago, the nuts started to appear. I vaguely remember hearing Tadaaki tell me this, though in my busy haze still didn’t really know where the trees were. But last year was the first year Tadaaki actually gathered the nuts and brought them home.
Every night, I have my 4 or 8 pecans. I keep thinking I should make something with them. The first bag is dwindling down, but I still have one more bag. Maybe pecan brittle would be nice…I have some killer organic sugar.
Oh, and these days, it’s my husband who buys trees. He gave me a weeping cherry blossom for my birthday. I wanted a goat, but was properly thankful.
Pecans in Andrew's bowl on antique Japanese cloth
Pecans in their shells: Serve in an earthy pottery bowl of a complimentary color to the nuts and with no busy design (preferably Japanese). Pass your guests a couple nutcrackers. We use an iron nutcracker with a spring action guaranteed to crack the rock hard black walnuts found in the Dordogne. Tadaaki also recently came home with an unusual flea market find: a 2-foot tall antique wooden Nutcracker Man made in Germany, complete with a patch of real fur for his beard. Place the nutcrackers near your most industrious guests and don’t forget an empty pottery bowl for the shells. Open a bottle of your tastiest Sauvignon Blanc or Rosé. Avoid Chardonnay.