There was a time when walnuts were just as important as apples in the Odenwald. Then wars decimated the number of trees, orchard meadows became less profitable and French varieties flooded the market. The trees fell into oblivion. Marion Jöst works as an environmental consultant for the municipality of Rimbach. By creating a new variety, she wants to get Odenwald locals excited about walnuts again.

On this cloudy Saturday in autumn, Marion Jöst stands under the tree that started it all. It’s been more than 30 years since she first climbed the steep meadow in Unter-Mengelbach. She bends down and picks a walnut out of the grass. It looks like just another nut to the untrained eye. But for Marion it is unique. “An average nut has a point and a curve, similar to a chicken egg,” the short woman explains while her reddish-blonde curls are bobbing in the wind. “This one has two points. This makes it easy to recognise. And it is why we made it the Rimbach nut.” Marion places the nut between her hands and gives it a good squeeze. It cracks. She picks out a piece of the ivory-coloured interior, pops it in her mouth and beams: “And it’s really good!”


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The story of the Rimbach walnut, told in this video by Marion Jöst.

Mild yet intense is the flavour of the variety that the environmental consultant for Rimbach wants to turn into a local brand. Marion tasted it for the first time when she was less than 30 years old. At the time, the biologist, who grew up in the Ulfenbachtal valley, had just started her job in Rimbach. One of her first tasks was to map the natural environment in the municipality. She discovered an unusual number of walnut trees on her way to Unter-Mengelbach, a small hamlet at the foot of Tromm mountain. Marion wanted to know more about them and began to talk to the locals. Eventually she was led to Rudi Bangert’s tree. He told her the story of his walnuts, which he brought to the market in Weinheim until the 1960s. Then the traders no longer wanted them, because the nuts couldn’t compete with the larger, oilier French varieties.

A nut with two pointy tips: the characteristic feature of the Rimbach nut.

Before that, walnuts used to be just as important as apples in the Odenwald. People journeyed as far away as Heidelberg and Frankfurt to sell them. About 300 of the trees with the deep taproots and spherical treetops grew in Rimbach and another 1,000 in Zotzenbach in 1904. There were probably even more a few decades earlier. The wars at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century had decimated the number of trees. Marion knows all about this because she has been researching walnut cultivation in the Odenwald ever since she made her discovery in Unter-Mengelbach. “Rifle stocks used to be made of walnut wood,” Marion knows. “This is why many trees were cut down during the Franco-Prussian War and the First World War.”

Things worsened for the walnut even after the wars as plantations spread and orchard meadows were abandoned. Not only did the trees disappear with them, but also the knowledge of how to achieve a really good walnut harvest. “Most of the trees that grew up here in the Odenwald after the world wars are wild trees that germinated from seeds forgotten by squirrels,” Marion explains. With these trees it is a matter of chance whether the nuts are large or small, tasty or not.

It’s advisable to put a stop to the squirrel, if you want to have good nuts with a high oil content

Marion Jöst

“It’s advisable to put a stop to the squirrel, if you want to have good nuts with a high oil content,” the biologist says and goes on to explains emphatically how important grafting is and how Rudi’s tree grew into ten grafted seedlings. Marion had been studying the Odenwald walnuts for years when an idea took shape in the summer of 2020. She returned to the meadow in Unter-Mengelbach accompanied by Frank Flasche, who refines and processes walnuts in the Riednuss company in Biebesheim. The expert was impressed by the nuts grown on the tree of Rudi. Marion sent three young shoots to a tree nursery in Freiburg. A year and a half later, the post brought a parcel with “ten tiny trees: this tree’s children” she remembers. And there is this beaming smile again. When you get right down to it, the seedlings are actually clones of it. To graft a tree, you join one of its shoots to the root of another tree. If this scion grows, the seedling has the same characteristics as the tree from which the shoot originated. “But hardly anybody knows that nowadays,” she regrets. “That’s why the nuts in the Odenwald are getting smaller and smaller.”

Biologist Marion knows how much grafting matters in walnut trees.

Picking them up is still worthwhile the biologist is convinced. She has launched another campaign in addition to the new local variety. The clouds have cleared as she arrives at the zero-waste shop in Rimbach in the late morning. A short queue has formed in the sunshine behind the shop. Locals of Rimbach and the neighbouring villages can drop off their walnuts here once a year. Peter Gruber pays 1.50 euros per kilogramme. He is a linum farmer and oil miller in neighbouring Lörzenbach and processes the nuts into oil, pesto and flour. Susanne Scheller sells the finished products in the zero-waste shop. The high-quality and expensive oil should never be heated. “It’s the ideal oil for lamb’s lettuce,” Marion thinks.

Walnuts are available in the Rimbach zero-waste shop to snack or as flour, oil and pesto.

Peter Gruber takes 530 kilogrammes of nuts home this year; slightly less than in previous years. The warm and humid summer has taken its toll on the trees. The walnut tree, brought from the Mediterranean to the Odenwald by the Romans some 2,000 years ago, is actually considered climate resistant. It probably originated in the Middle East and tolerates heat and drought well. However, when summers are not only warm but also humid, fungi, bacteria and the walnut fruit fly flourish. If a tree is infested, the otherwise green husk turns black. It does not open when the nut is ripe and the black fibres are also difficult to remove by hand. Everyone waiting in the queue at the zero-waste shop is familiar with this phenomenon. This year, it seems to have affected a particularly large number of trees—including Rudi’s. In good years, it produces 50 kilogrammes of nuts, but this year it is likely to be significantly less.

Marion has distributed young Rimbach walnut trees throughout the municipality.

Marion has distributed the descendants of this tree, which is now 100 years old, throughout Rimbach. One specimen also went to France when mayor Holger Schmitt donated it to the French twin town of Thourotte. It was a peace offering, so to speak, considering the fact that it was the French walnuts that sealed the demise of the walnut in the Odenwald. Another small tree has been growing on Haywoodplatz in Rimbach for two years. The place is named after the twin town in England, for which another seedling is being prepared. Two nuts peek out from between the oval leaves. Marion plucks one from the burst husk. “And what does it look like?—It has two tips!” she exclaims with relief and beams again, gently touching one of the leaves. “Well done.”


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