He’s going nuts for butternuts

Published 8:58 am Friday, September 23, 2011

Column: Between the Corn Rows

Is there anyone in the area getting ready to join the squirrels in the harvesting of butternuts? At this point I’m not writing about the squash known as butternut. I’m referring to the fruit or seeds that fall from butternut trees about this time of year.

There are butternut trees in this part of the state. In fact, the scientific name for this tree is Juglans cinerea. And right there is an indication of this trees close association with this county.

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Juglans, sometimes also called Juglan and Juglands, is the name for the site at the outlet of Albert Lea Lake and source of the Shell Rock River. This area got its name in the early days because of the presence of a large number of butternut trees. I’ve been told that many of these trees have been cut down for their lumber through the years. Thus, it would be an interesting detail as to how many of these trees with their edible nuts are still left in the woods along Freeborn County Road 19 near the bridge and dam.

That’s right, I’m using the word edible. According to the state’s Department of Natural Resources this tree has a fruit or seed that’s a “light brown nut enclosed in oblong, somewhat pointed, sticky, yellowish-green husk about two inches long; husk covered with short, rusty, clammy, sticky hairs; nut has rough, grooved shell and oily edible kernel.”

Sadly, the DNR reports this tree is being destroyed by a fungus called butternut canker.

Years ago when I lived in Mankato, several of my buddies became nuts for butternuts in the fall. Each one had a secret tree or two deep in the woods along the Minnesota River. The nuts were harvested and considered to be a real treat. I’m assuming they were used in preparing special food items like homemade candy or were the local version of peanuts or walnuts.

As I’ve already indicated, the word butternut is also used for an edible winter squash. There’s also a tannish color called butternut for clothing. Several food products of the past have also used this nutty designation for their brand names. They include Butternut Bread, Butternut Coffee, a flavor of doughnut, and the no-longer-available Butternut Candy, a bar consisting of caramel and peanuts.

What could be the most unusual use of this name is a ship in the U.S. Navy designated as USS Butternut (YAG-60). The small ship was in service from 1941 to 1977 as a net tender and minesweeper.

This tree has also provided the inspiration for naming three communities, a ski resort and even an official state designation. In fact, one of those communities isn’t too far from here.

Over in Blue Earth County is Butternut Valley Township. Within the township is the tiny, almost-not-there town of Butternut. This locality has a Lutheran church, cemetery and a few homes. It’s comparable to Lerdal. However, this Butternut locality, six miles west of Lake Crystal, is actually shown on the official state map.

Over in Wisconsin and up in the far north county of Ashland near Park Falls is the village of Butternut. Its population in 2000 was 407 people. In 2010, it was 375. Out in New York’s Otsego County is the town of Butternuts with a population of 1,792 in 2000 and 1,786 in 2010.

In the far western part of Massachusetts in the Berkshires is a winter resort known as Ski Butternut near the town of Great Barrington. When snow is on the ground, it’s a popular place for skiing and snowboarding.

To conclude this salute to Juglans cinerea, Tennessee is known as the Butternut State, a reference to the tan uniforms Tennessee soldiers wore in the Civil War.

Cornstalk comment

There’s no question at all about Glaydon Iverson of Emmons being the first member of the armed forces from Freeborn County to die during World War II. He died Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

However, who was the first person from Albert Lea to die during this war? The answer came from a nice lady who called my attention to a Tribune news report in the Dec. 28, 1942, issue.

This article said Pvt. Bruce J. Williams was the first person “of this city to pay the supreme price overseas.”

Bruce was the son of Cliff and Julia Williams. He was born on April 27, 1922, attended Ramsey School and graduated from Albert Lea High School in 1940. This was followed by a year at Albert Lea Junior College and enlistment in the U.S. Army on June 25, 1942.

After basic training in Georgia, Bruce became a member of the 47th Infantry Combat Team, 9th Division. He died on Nov. 9, 1942, of wounds received during the invasion of North Africa in either Morocco or Algeria).

A memorial service for Pvt. Williams was held on Jan. 3, 1943, at Cavalry Baptist Church. He’s buried with his parents in Section K at Graceland Cemetery.

With just three exceptions, Ed Shannon’s columns have been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.