Crack that nut

traditional wooden nutcrackers


I’m always pleased to learn how to do something better. For context, I need to begin by explaining worse, so let’s get cracking.

You’re probably familiar with the picturesque wooden nutcrackers that bring to mind Tchaikovsky’s ballet. We have one among our Christmas decorations, but I’m sure it’s not up to the task of actually cracking open a walnut. I also have vague childhood memories of a wooden bowl of nuts at Christmastime, along with various tools for opening them that were not easy for young hands to manage. It always seemed that as soon as I got a walnut positioned, ready to squeeze, it would slide out and bounce onto the floor.


metal nut cracker and pick


I don’t know whether Spanish Christmas decorations feature nutcracker statues, but now know that Spaniards have a much handier way of getting inside of a walnut.

At our local market, a bag of walnuts in the shell comes with a flat metal implement with a point on one side. Placing that point in the crevice between the two halves of the walnut and twisting just a little will pop it right open. Getting all the good bits out isn’t always as simple, but maybe I just haven’t watched an expert.




When you’re opening two or three walnuts, the tools you use are probably not critical. But when you’ve got a lot of nuts to open, having something that works well is likely to make a big difference. Last fall we collected a bucket of walnuts from a neighbor’s tree, and Chiquito, visiting from Germany, took various tools (including a hammer, I think) and did the arduous work of separating the shells from their edible insides. It was a lengthy procedure. He may hope he’s never visiting again during walnut season, but whoever has the job, we’ve now got a much better tool: an abrenueces,* literally, open-nuts.




*Spanish speakers from some place other than Spain are likely to pronounce nuez or nueces as “noo-ace” or “noo-aces” (apologies to everyone who’s really good at international phonetic alphabet and symbols). In Spain these words would be pronounced with the “theta” sound for c or z, a soft “th” sound, known to linguists as the voiceless dental non-sibilant fricative, and to non-linguists as “Wow–that’s a complicated name for a little th sound.”

[Images: chel1395 at,, Loquita, yours truly]

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