“Franquette Walnuts” (aka Carpathian/English)
For practical purposes the world of walnuts is divided between two types of trees: black walnuts and “English walnuts.” Black walnuts are native to North America while “English walnuts” originated in Persia. If you wonder why a Persian tree is called “English” you are not alone. Suffice to explain that in the world of plants common names are commonly misleading.
Only a handful of English walnut varieties dominate the commercial market in the United States. California, which produces nearly all of the walnuts in the USA, has four principal varieties of walnut which make up nearly all of the state’s crop. Adding to the homogeneity of the US walnut market is that the variety of walnut being sold is rarely identified at the level of the consumer.
The Franquette walnut is a very old variety grown in France since at least the 18th century. Along with two other old French varieties, Mayette and Parisian, they form a triad of walnuts protected by a French A.O.C. designation and sold as “noix de Grenoble.”
Franquette and Mayette walnut trees were introduced into Northern California in the late 1800s by Felix Gitttet who started the first large tree nursery in the state. For a time Franquette was the favored variety since it tolerated late spring frosts. But in the very late 1800s a chance crossing of a Franquette with a Mayette walnut tree in the Napa orchard of John Hartley resulted in a smaller and more reliably productive walnut tree. In 1925 a stable cultivar from that cross was commercially introduced as the “Hartley Walnut”. Hartley Walnuts dominated the entire state’s orchards for the next sixty years. If you bought any California walnuts during that time the chances are high that you were eating a Hartley.
Franquette walnuts are still to be found, particularly in the colder climates of the Northwest USA, Canada and France. Franquette trees grow to a very large size and seem largely indifferent to measures directed at improving their modest yield. They bear nuts on only the terminal catkins and their production from year-to-year is variable. To their credit, however, they are nearly the last of any walnut variety to flower and thus are far less susceptible to spring frosts.
The taste difference between walnut varieties is subtle and I have very little experience upon which to draw. But given that limitation I still claim that Franquette walnuts are the best I’ve had in my life. If you want a second and undoubtedly unbiased opinion, the French AOC claims that Franquette walnuts have an element of “butterscotch” and “sweetness” that is unique. So there.
One final academic note is that the genus “Juglans” is a Linnean contraction of two Latin words, “Jovis” and “glans.” Roughly it means “Jupiter’s nipple.” And if that imagery can’t help you remember a bit of botany lingo I give up.
These walnuts were grown in my orchard in the Valley of the Moon. The trees were planted in the 1920-30s as part of a commercial orchard. My modest contribution is to avoid any intervention excepting annual soil improvements using organic methods.