From 1921 to 1996, the iconic Nut Tree in northern California was a roadside oasis loved by adults and children alike for its design aesthetic, delicious food and sense of fun.
The story began in 1855 when Josiah Allison left Iowa and settled with his family on land near Vacaville that would become the Nut Tree Ranch.
He planted giant fig trees, and in 1860 also planted a single black walnut picked by his 12-year-old niece Sally Fox on her harrowing journey to California in 1858-60. Her father was killed by Mojave Indians in Arizona and Sally was seriously injured with an arrow.
In 1921, when a heatwave made the family’s figs too ripe to sell to market, Josiah’s granddaughter Helen and her husband Edwin ‘Bunny’ Power set up a fruit stand under the by-now mature and shady walnut tree to sell fruit directly to customers.
In the following decades, the modest fruit stand grew into a high-end roadside destination, a concept that did not exist until the Nut Tree invented it.
By 1961, the Nut Tree was serving as many as 2500 meals a day in its three dining rooms with customers clamoring for innovative fare made from scratch by an army of Chinese cooks for Americans accustomed to standard meat-and-potatoes.
Favorite dishes included pineapple with marshmallow sauce, Chicken Almond, Beef and Tomato Chow Yuk and chess pie, a confection of walnuts, raisins and butterscotch. There was also the famous 49-way ice cream sundae.
Once fed, customers could peruse the extensive gift shop and children could play on giant wooden hobby horses or take rides on a miniature train to the Nut Tree Airport, a local air strip.
Famous visitors at the trend-setting Nut Tree included Herbert Hoover, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Bing Crosby and Shirley Temple. Queen Elizabeth II had lunch there in 1983 at the invitation of then-California Governor George Deukmejian.
The Nut Tree closed in 1996 after 75 years of operation. Memorabilia from this trend-setting Californian restaurant can be found at the Vacaville Museum. Diane Power Zimmerman, granddaughter of the founders Helen and Bunny Power, has also written a book about the Nut Tree, and its pioneering ideas about dining and hospitality.
This menu image is from 1971.
Each order includes a print of the interior menu.
All printed in USA.