Nuts About Nutcrackers

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(Chico, CA)
Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Nutcracker in the ballet gets to dance in tights, [dance music]  But when the boy Fritz gives it an oversized nut, it breaks.  whooo!  This nutcracker is all SPECTACULAR form -- and no function. 
This one is somewhat more practical, it ratchets back and forth, and the size of the nut…and you just go down and get the proper size nut… and crack it. [BIG CRACK]

Emmett Skinner loves it when one of his nutcrackers works. He’s got about 5 dozen of them laid out for me on his kitchen table in his home in downtown Chico.

This one is a squirrel in a tray and it slides in and out. Pull up the tail, put the nut in the jaws and let it drop [CLONK]

Skinner collects nutcrackers like some people collect thimbles or matchbooks. Collecting coincided with his family’s legacy in Butte County agriculture.

That came along with planting the first trees… 

The Skinner family farms 18,000 nut trees. So, back in the house, there’s no shortage of nuts. One big bag is just the beginning. You need more nuts than you think for a good cracking session. Pliers, squeezers, slammers and crushers can make or break the nut.  Some contraptions on Skinner’s table look like someone was trying to build a better mouse trap – or Mouse King trap. [quick Mouse King riff] 

This is a totally impractical one. It looks like a waffle iron. 

One nutcracker that works well is too racy for Skinner to discuss. 

They’re women’s legs, [excellent crack] and we’ll leave it at that. 

Skinner’s oldest nutcrackers hang on the lip of the table, like a meat grinder. 

This is the Squirrel Nutcracker, Patent pending, May 1913. Here’s another one on the same principle, Perfection, nutcracker, Waco Texas, and the patent on that is November 1914. 

Looking at Emmett’s display on the table, what you see is they’re also art, and reflect the different cultures that they come from. 

Laura Joplin chairs Chico’s California Nut Festival.

I just love the way people invest themselves in something which is both useful and says something about who they are as people. 

This 83-year-old no-nonsense farmer knows that when he’s got a tough nut to crack, he puts a premium on performance. 

The only one that I’ve really used is the Texas nutcracker.  The only thing I know it won’t work on is a black walnut. The black walnut, you need a sledgehammer…. 

The sledgehammer – possibly the world first nutcracker – is missing from Skinner’s comprehensive nutcracker collection along with ONE OTHER omission – a nutcracker like the one in the ballet. THAT nutcracker better sticking to sugar plum fairies -- because Emmett Skinner is not impressed. 

“I don’t care for them. They’re not practical. I’ve got limited space. 


I’m Elaine Corn, KXJZ News