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The Legend of Bacchus
The history of how walnuts came to California began with the legend of Dionysus, also known as Bacchus. Dionysus is the Greek God Of Wine (and God of other worldly pleasures) who fell in love with a princess named Carya.
Carya had sisters who were quite jealous of the relationship the two of them had. They made attempts to keep Carya away from Bacchus, causing him anger and frustration. In his anger, he is said to have turned the sisters into stone. In conclusion of the tale, he then transforms his lover into the first walnut tree.
The legend certainly doesn’t make much sense, but this is how it is told.
If the story holds any truth, Bacchus created one of our most valuable trees that provided wood for furniture and construction. More commonly known, the walnut tree provided a variety of nuts that have historically sustained populations in time of need.
Almost all of the world’s marketable walnuts today are Juglans Regia, the Persian walnut. At the time, man was said to live on acorns. Bacchus and his fellow Gods ate the best acorns with the word Juglans meaning “Jupiter’s Acorns” and Regia meaning “Royal.”
Ultimately, we know that mythology is not the same as trusted archeology.
This species of walnut is so widely scattered over the globe that it’s difficult to know exactly where it originated. South Central Asia seems most likely based on what we know. We know that archeologists have uncovered walnut shells as much as 9,000 years old. The history of walnuts show them being found in the ruins of Pompeii, indicating that they came as far as southern Italy over 2,000 years ago.
Over time, the Persian Walnut was taken to and established in almost every temperate area visited by traders and explorers. Traders brought such large quantities of them to England, that they were sometimes called the English Walnut.
Persian Walnuts came to California with Franciscan Priests around the late eighteenth century. It became a significant crop in the middle of the nineteenth century and in 1912, the Diamond Walnut cooperative was established in Stockton, California.
The walnut is popular everywhere because it is hardy, grows well, and is easy to crack. There are currently many different species growing in California. No other species however, claims commercial cultivation like the Persian Walnut .
Historical Medical Benefits Of Eating Walnuts
The history of walnuts covers a long list of ancient cures that the walnut was once used for, ranging from autism to concussions. A walnut resembles a brain, and in the Middle Ages was thought to be “brain food” or even “brain medicine.” Correspondingly, those suffering from mental illness and were advised to eat a lot of walnuts. They were even believed to create fertility in women and for that reason, are sometimes thrown at weddings to encourage pregnancy.
The Future of California Walnuts
Nurseries often use a rootstock from a northern California black walnut species to plant new trees. It is a tough, hardy, and a disease-resistant tree. Within the orchards, the trees are planted thirty feet apart and eventually producing when they are between six and eight years old. When they become too large, the orchard is then thinned out. Mature walnut trees need a space of fifty feet, and can live a very long time when properly cared for. There are even century-old walnut trees that are still successfully producing crops.
In conclusion, whether it’s due to health benefits, fun history or just taste alone, walnuts are a nutritious dietary addition. One that is readily available in the United States due to it’s historical growth in California over time.