Walnuts have been one of the most valued foods since ancient times. They originally came from Persia and the Middle East, where they were planted in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and where King Solomon had them cultivated in groves. After the Greeks discovered the Persian walnut they improved it by making it bigger. Then came the Romans who were enchanted with walnuts and had them served on huge platters together with other fruits. In the ruins of Pompeii, buried after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, whole unshelled walnuts were found among the remains.
The Greeks and Romans used walnut to dye wool and their hair. During the 4th century Charlemagne had walnut trees cultivated in his properties. Persian walnuts are referred to as English walnuts because it was English sailors who transported them around the globe.
The black walnut is a hardy native of North America, well known and cultivated before the arrival of European settlers. Early colonists tried to introduce the Persian or English variety in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania but did not prosper. But around the early 19th century the English walnut was successfully introduced to California by the Spanish missionaries. Here they thrived and new French varieties have been added since.
Walnuts are good plain, with some Stilton cheese and port wine, or included in various dishes from soups to desserts and dessert cordials. The Middle Eastern Baklava, consists of layers of filo and ground walnuts and spices, smothered in a syrup and cut into diamond shapes.
Green immature walnuts are also edible, they can be made into pickles and jams.. Which reminds me, there was a convent in Lima, Peru, where the nuns made (by order only and for special, formal events),a very elaborate confection out of green walnuts which took days to prepare before being finally presented wrapped in gold paper and heaped on silver platters. The only glitch is that they tended to leave your teeth black.