My mother loved black walnuts. Whenever she got to Des Moines, this farmwife liked to shop at Campbell’s Nutrition. She knew they’d have bold-flavored black walnuts. Most local stores only carried the more bland English walnuts.
Mom often baked and frosted dozens of her soft black walnut chocolate cookies. She’d freeze cakepans full of them.
I couldn’t find the recipe in her own handwriting, but she often used recipes from the Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking, first published in 1947. Baking cookies in those days was certainly labor-intensive!
Sift flour, measure, resift four times with salt and soda. Put brown sugar through coarse sieve to remove lumps. Put chocolate in large custard cup in hot water to melt, then cool. Cream shortening, add sugar gradually and cream well together. Stir in vanilla. Beat in egg until fluffy, then beat in cooled chocolate.
Add flour mixture and milk alternately in 3 or 4 portions, beating smooth after each addition. Stir in nuts. Drop from dessert spoon into neat mounds on lightly-greased baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees about 10 minutes. Don’t overbake. Let stand on sheet a minute before removing to cake racks to cool.
When barely cool, swirl chocolate icing over tops. Let stand until icing is firm. Store 1-layer deep in a covered container. Makes 3 dozen cookies.
Measure butter into 2-quart mixing bowl and let stand over hot water to melt. Put chocolate in large custard cup and set in hot water to melt, then cool. Add xxxx (powdered) sugar alternately with cream to melted butter, beating until smooth after each addition. Beat in vanilla, then chocolate, egg yolk, and syrup until smooth and shiny. Enough for 3 dozen cookies.
Mom’s taste for black walnuts went back to the Great Depression, maybe earlier. The Wilson family would gather them in the timber in Guthrie or Dallas County, then dry them outside. Her dad, Clabe, would run the Model T truck over the green husks to loosen them, making them easier to shuck. Under those husks, which would leave dark stains on their skin, were the hard shells that still needed cracked to pick out the earthy bittersweet nutmeats.
When Doris (Mom) was in high school, the family had a pet squirrel one summer. In the fall, Rusty began to spend less time with them, but he’d show up when Doris cracked walnuts on the back step. He was smart enough to help himself to the ones she’d already managed to open.
Rusty is on the fender of the Wilsons’ Model T roaster, featured on the cover of the book. Junior, the youngest brother, is looking down at him.