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72 responses to “Black Walnuts and Holiday Cheer”

  1. mike klaus

    All the above brings back fond memories of my Illinois childhood with Dad, hulling and shelling black walnuts. Now in Wisconsin, our little farm must have 50 trees and this year is a bumper crop. I could take hundreds of pounds and the squirrels wouldn’t notice.

    We bought a trommel, a sort of rotary sieve, a couple years ago for sifting larger chunks out of compost. Its original use was as a field corn cleaner. It is basically a 40″ diameter drum about six feet long, covered in 1/2″ hardware cloth. A 1/4 HP motor drives it at maybe 30 rpm. It’s normally inclined a few degrees so the finer compost falls through for collection, while the undigested pieces of whatever make it to the lower end and fall out.

    I blocked it up so it’s almost flat and put a temporary shield on the end. Then I dump a few dozen walnuts onto an unused sidewalk, walk on them wearing OUTDOOR ONLY boots until the hulls are loosened, then shovel the whole mess into the open end of the trommel. When there are several hundred nuts loaded, I let it run for about half an hour. It gets gradually louder as the hulls break up and fall through the screen. I stood back and shot a good stream from the garden hose into the rotating drum, ran it a bit more, then lowered the bottom end before removing the end shield, and watched the clean nuts fall into a bin.

    I’ve run only two batches so far, but it seems to work pretty well. There are a lot more waiting to be done. And way more than I’ll ever get around to shelling.

  2. Kim

    Thanks Hank. Just what’s needed – the walnuts are falling.

  3. Tim

    Hank,
    I understand that the Native Americans used Black Walnut products for a lot of things including as a dye and insect repellent and I do know of one by-product use that could come in handy. If you’ll crush the hulls in some sort of bucket, add water and pour it over some ground that will potentially hold earthworms, the chemicals in the hulls will make ALL of the worms in that area come to the surface immediately for easy gathering to put on a hook! Have a container of clean water handy also to give the worms a rinse since the walnut juice obviously has an effect on them.
    Happy gathering…and fishing together in this case!

  4. Mark Tade

    I always wash the hulled nuts several times in a 5-gallon bucket (the wash water is slightly toxic to other plants so pour it somewhere other than your garden–I pour it on my gravel driveway). Then I hang the nuts in mesh bags for several weeks, up to 6 months to dry and cure. I crack them in a bench vise, which works better than a hammer and saves you a blue thumb. My dad used to say something was bluer than a cross-eyed carpenter’s thumb. Only hickory nuts are hard to crack and pick, but they are as delicious in their own right as black walnuts.

  5. Joyce

    Great story, reminding me of my childhood in Lake Odessa, Michigan. We had 4 black walnut trees in our yard. Each year for Christmas we 5 kids would give our aunt (a professor who lived in Manhattan and was famous for her black walnut chocolate brownies) and grandmother a jar of black walnuts for Christmas. We accomplished this by our teenage-brother driving the car over them (we just had a dirt driveway) to get the hulls off. Then around the kitchen table he would hammer them open on a brick sitting on the kitchen table. We 3 sisters would take the nutmeats out using nutpicks. So much fun — and so appreciated by our aunt and grandmother!

  6. Fall Foraging Finds | Kentucky Forager

    […] information on harvesting and processing black walnuts HERE via Hunter, Angler, Gardener, […]

  7. John Moore

    Great article. This is information you just can’t find. Sadly, people in Indianapolis just throw them away.

    I harvest them – http://www.fallcreekgardens.org/2013/11/black-gold-black-walnut-harvest/

  8. jaylyn

    My grandfather’s favorite cookie was a black walnut icebox cookie. I hadn’t made them for years, since they’re not to everyone’s taste, but now that we have our own black walnut tree in the Berkshires, we’ve been harvesting — mostly wresting them away from the rival teams of red squirrels, who secrete them on opposite sides of the orchard and then relocate them to their nests — and making the cookies for Christmas. [The squirrels have managed over the years to fill the sills of the house and barn with black walnut shells. How they get their tiny little teeth through the hardest shells in the world is anybody’s guess.] Recipe attached.
    Ice Box Nut Cookies
    (Black Walnut)

    2 eggs
    2 c brown sugar
    1 c shortening (my mother used margarine; I use Earth Balance + butter)

    Beat together and add:

    3 to 3-1/2 c flour
    1 t baking soda
    pinch of salt
    1 c nut meats, broken

    Stir up at night, pack in shallow pan ungreased. Place in cold place. In the a.m. turn on floured board, slice thin, and bake.*

    *375 for 10-12 min or till nicely browned and smelling like the earth and heaven combined

  9. Marilynn

    Not sure if anyone is still around to answer since this is from 2010 but I harvested my first black walnuts, I picked them up from the ground as out trees are WAY too tall to pick them from. Some of the outer shells were black, some were speckled with black/brown, I took off the outer husk, washed them and let them air dry (as instructed in a video on youtube) …its been several weeks now and I decided to crack one open to have a taste…they taste like english walnuts but with a more earthy taste. Did I do something wrong? should I toast them before eating/using? or could my nuts just be bad?

  10. Pete

    The taste is unique. Not sure if ‘earthy’ is good or bad…I personally love the flavor. It has been said that if you hull the nuts while they are still green, before the inside gets brown and squishy, that the flavor will be milder, and I believe this to be true from my own experience.
    The very best, easily available way to crack them is with a ‘Vice Grips’, it is very controlled and can be easily adjusted with the screw adjustment from nut to nut.

  11. Dorothy Schenck

    I’ve found a good way to get the hulls off is to pound the nuts thro a knot hole or hole drilled in a board.

  12. mary ford

    Does anyone want to sell any of your black walnuts? If so, have been dying to get some, just let me know.

  13. Cpt Jera

    Great article! Thanks!
    Wife (Ms Carmen) and I spent our first night at home on our ‘new’ old farm here in northeast Tennessee. We’ve named it “Eden’s Garden”, after the Eden family who established it in 1908.
    Black walnut trees everywhere and they are COVERED!!
    Looking forward to our harvest!

  14. Nick

    Have a question that someone may be able to answer. I’m a novice when it comes to black walnuts. I hulled and set 20 some to dry and a week later got about 15 more and hulled them. I wanted to see the meat of the walnut so I cracked one that I had just hulled and it looked great, jelly like and needed drying, but looked great. My curiosity got the best of me and I cracked one that I had on the drying rack from a week ago. The nut meat was very very thin, almost like it was nothing, is that normal or just a bad walnut?? Any help would be appreciated.

    Thanks
    Nick

  15. Carolyn Allen

    Thanks for all the info. We have several wild black walnut trees in So California and will now try to harvest some using your experience and tips. It sure sounds like a lot of work, though ;-)

  16. Lisa Simmons

    Yummmmm I LOVE black walnuts!!! I also remember them from childhood, my grandparents farm, the burlap sack full of nuts and my dad spending Sunday afternoons watching football and picking out the meat!!! my favorite black walnut recipe is using them in my famous Kraft Marshmallow Fantasy fudge recipe!! And it only tastes right with black walnuts!! I scoff at those nasty English types!!!!

  17. A Smith

    We recently purchased several acres and have our own walnut trees, along with a shallow creek. I took the walnuts in the hull to the creek and rolled them around under my boot. The hull and gush of walnut stain simply flowed away, and as I rolled the nut around on the rock bed of the creek, I came up with a clean and hulled nut, and no mess! I could did around 5 or 6 a minute that way. I’ll wait until they cure a bit before cracking one. This is my first ever attempt so I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

  18. Chris Mathis

    Hank,
    Great soliloquy on the wonder that is the black walnut. Having just harvested about 10 bushels, I am sharing some of my own “lessons”

    1. Wear those plastic rubber or latex gloves under the gloves you are going to de-husk with. Stains seep through leather too.

    2. Blacktop and tractor tires. Spread your green, beige and black husks on some out-of-the-way blacktop or hard road surface. DON”t drive the car or truck over them. Instead, use the tractor. The tires are softer and don’t crack so many nuts, and the large tread contours are much better at removing the husks that a knife or other implements. (There is an added benefit of making the road look like it was just re-tarred…)

    3. You CAN wash out your wet-stained fabric or leather gloves. Immediately get them soaking in a bucket with dish detergent and water. SOAKING. Overnight. The gloves actually WILL come clean.

    4. Drying the de-husked nuts. Critical. The longer the better. But every furry nut forager wants what you have. My neighbor fills her live animal trap with the nuts and seals the door shut! Good air flow, can sit in the sun safely and the squirrels can’t get to them! (She’s learned a lot in her 80+ years. I thought this was an inspired use of the wire cage.)

    5. YES THERE ARE GOOD NUT CRACKERS! I will send pictures of TWO that I now swear by (not swear at). Black walnuts take a unique management of force and these machines (one very old and one new) both work well (and keep you from crushing fingers with that D*$% hammer!)

    Black walnut cake, pound cake, pie… oh my…

  19. lili

    I dont know why some people here think that water after you wash the walnut is toxic? We dye cloth and other stuff with that water. Let it boil and then you can dye things with that, so how come is toxic? It is not toxic.

  20. Gene

    I recently became re-interested in black walnuts. I live in the Great Plains, and the black walnut is apparently the only native nut tree in my state. When I lived a few hundred miles south of here as a child, I and my siblings gathered black walnuts from beneath my grandfather’s tree, walked 20 feet to his old blacksmith bench, and cracked the beasties with an ancient vise. As an alternative I tried the old anvil and a hammer he had used, but found the vise much easier to control without damaging the nut meats.
    Some years ago my mother bought a house in a small town in the eastern part of the state, and a few years before her death I moved out to her place to help her avoid having to live in a nursing home. There were two old black walnut trees in her yard, both probably approaching 100 years of age. The trees produced nuts pretty much every year, but I found them difficult to enjoy in any quantity due to the many well-documented characteristics of the species.
    When Mom died, I moved back into a larger town, where I live now. I was goofing around one day and typed “black walnut cracker” into a search engine and found that there are several pretty good ones avaliable. I researched them pretty well and decided on the Hunt nut cracker from Des Moines, Iowa. I ordered one and it is an amazing thing. It really does crack them nicely. This fall I picked up some black walnuts, hulled them out on the driveway by roughing them with my shoes, and after a few weeks, started cracking them.
    Of the approximately 5 gallons of nuts (after hulling), I have cracked and eaten all but about a dozen nuts. I’ve ordered more nuts from several sources, and expect to receive some between now and Christmas.
    If you need a good black walnut cracker, Hunt makes a jim-dandy one. Heavy cast iron, with steel dies. Pull the lever down until it cracks just the amount you want. Can’t go wrong. I was discussing with the manufacturer about getting another one or two for other family members. He said that he can’t make any more until after February because the foundry that makes the cast iron parts are backlogged on production. But I’m thinking I’m placing an order for one or two more so they will be avaliable next fall.
    The link that accompanies this response should take you to the H & C Nut Cracker Co. web site.
    Check it out. It’s really a great machine.

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