Peterson, 59, grew up in Waukesha, graduated from UW-Whitewater and spent 30 years in manufacturing before retiring. He works part time in the distillery at Wollersheim Winery near Prairie du Sac and began collecting walnuts at his home near Summers Christmas Tree Farm off Airport Road in about 2013. He tinkered around with recipes and processes to clean and extract nuts before going commercial in 2015.
“When I talk to folks at the farmers markets they come by and they say, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of work,’” Peterson said. “It keeps me sane and keeps me out of trouble.”
He purchased the Nut Wizard online for about $75 but used his manufacturing background to construct a device in his garage to remove the green outer husk from the nut. It’s essentially a spare tire from a trailer that is powered by an electric motor and resembles a pitching machine that squishes the husk off the nut when it’s pressed against a steel plate.
The nuts are then placed in a water trough. Those that float are discarded, since they aren’t fully developed, while those that sink are transferred to a home-designed, and hand-cranked, steel washing machine. After five minutes, the batch is removed, hosed off with clean water and then placed on drying racks in the driveway. After a few days, the nuts are cured in onion bags and hung in the garage for six weeks.
Then the cracking, picking and bagging begins. It brings back memories of his grandfather who lived in Eastman, near Prairie du Chien, and who occasionally would pick up walnuts, spread them out in the driveway and use the family car to drive over the fruit in an effort to remove the husks. On some occasions, Peterson, then a child, would sit in his grandfather’s lap and “steer.” But his grandfather’s love was hickory nuts, another challenging nut to crack.