History of Walnuts
The first historical accounts of walnut trees growing under civilized cultivation was in ancient Babylon (Iraq) about 2000 B.C.; however, walnuts have evidently been attached to mankind much earlier by excavations from cave fossils as suggested by archeologists. There is a reference point in the Biblical record in the Old Testament, that King Solomon was growing nuts (identified as walnuts by some translators), however, the likelihood of these nuts being other than almonds is very remote, because of the almond nut image that was used as symbols commonly in Hebrew icons and stone carving displays in Jerusalem inside Solomons temple. The adaptability of almonds is much more likely for almond trees to succeed than for walnut trees in the climate and soils of Israel.
The Greeks were credited with the first certified improvements in the size and quality of the Persian (Iran and Iraq) today called English walnut trees through selection and cultivation. The Romans soon established the Persian walnut trees throughout most of Europe and much of North Africa, that have most popularly become known today as the English walnut trees.
English Walnuts, Juglans regia, were brought into the United States by Spanish missionaries in the early 1800s by Franciscan monks, who settled along the California coast. Because the English walnut orchards, that were rapidly established in Central California came from the seeds planted from those walnuts that grew in the Catholic missions, the walnuts were sold and distributed under the name Mission Walnuts.
Central California walnut tree growers today produce 99% of the total U.S. commercial walnut supplies of English walnuts. This production capacity of California also produces 65% of the world supply of English walnuts.
Famous chefs of the world use walnuts in many types of cuisines including meats, vegetables, desserts, and soup preparations. A world famous dessert–made from walnuts, honey, and paper-thin, buttered, flakes of crusts–is called Baklava.
Important commercial types of walnuts that are grown today for profit are Juglans regia, the English (Persian) walnut, that is mainly grown and produced in the United States. Trees can live to an age of approximately 60 years and grow to about 60 feet tall at maturity.
Black walnut, Juglans nigra, a native walnut tree in America is grown mainly from New England to Minnesota and Nebraska and southwards down to the Gulf of Mexico. The black walnut tree can grow to a height of 60 feet and can live past 100 years. Black walnut trees have been grown mainly for their value in making expensive furniture; the nuts are harvested in considerably large quantities to use in baking, ice cream, and in candy recipes. The nuts can be easily shelled into large pieces if soaked overnight in water. The nuts are known for their crunchy flavor, which is distinctively spicy and enriched in its oil content.
Butternut or White walnut, Juglans cinerea, is genetically closely related to the black walnut, Juglans nigra, that forms oval shaped nuts, with a thick corrugated shell, 2 inches long with white kernels; richly flavored and preferred by many people to have a superior flavor over other cultivars of walnuts. The white walnut can grow 100 feet tall with a life expectancy of 75 years. The white walnut tree is the most cold hardy of all walnut trees, growing vigorously in zones 3-9. The roots of these trees, like black walnut trees, will exude a poisonous chemical that kills other plants (phytotoxic) growing nearby, thus other vegetation does not grow well if located within 80 feet of the trunk of the tree. The tree has a broader, leafy canopy than other walnut trees, but the wood is soft and inferior.