Black Walnuts: A Forager’s Treat

Foraging for food is part of the joy of living in the country with natural resources. Our food supply does not end when the gardens are put to rest. The abundant black walnut trees at Five Feline Farm provide nuts with a distinctive flavor and are one of our favorites.

Harvesting the nuts is a process starting with the easy part: collection. Simply pick up nuts that have fallen to the ground. It doesn’t matter if the outer hull is green or black at this stage, just pick them up and fill a bucket. Collect way more than you think you need. By the time you have hulled, cracked and picked out the nutmeats, a five gallon bucket will yield about a quart of nuts.

The next step is to let the nuts dry until the hulls are completely black and withered. A great place to do this is in the greenhouse. The easiest way to remove the hulls is spread them in the driveway and run over them repeatedly with a vehicle of some kind. This year the riding mower was pressed into service but a pickup truck or car works nicely too.

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Step three is sort the nuts from the hulls. Wear gloves for this step. Walnut hulls can be used as a dye and make everything a nice warm brown color. Although this is a wonderful natural dye for fabric and wool, it is not great for skin unless you like an uneven brown tone on your hands. It will not wash off, so plan for a week or more with your hands in this condition. Again, wear gloves.

After picking up the hulled nuts, let them dry again in the greenhouse for several days. The nuts can keep for a significant period of time at this stage. Mesh bags that ten pounds of oranges come in are a nice ventilated bag to store the nuts while drying. After drying, some people wash them off in a bucket of water to remove the additional pieces of hull or dust that remains. You can also just shake the bag to rattle off some of the remaining dried bits of hull. This makes the cracking process a little cleaner.

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Now the most difficult part. Cracking the nuts. Black walnuts are one of the most difficult to crack because of the hard shells. Really hard. It is worth the investment to buy a good lever action nutcracker made especially for black walnuts. This will create enough leverage to actually crack the nut without crushing all of the nut meats. Just such a nutcracker is available from www.lehmans.com for about $40.

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Lastly pick out the nuts. Black walnuts do not come out in good halves like pecans or English walnuts but you can get some sizable chunks. The flavor is worth every crumb. The best tool for picking out the small pieces is a dental pick which is readily available at most pharmacies.

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The flavor of black walnuts is woodsy and earthy, rich with distinctive flavor. Black walnut ice cream is a delicious treat or try adding some to your favorite fudge recipe.

What other recipes would you recommend for black walnuts?

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