Eating Wild Black Walnuts - Dehulling, Drying, Cracking, and Storing

Last year, I watched the Black Walnuts drop in October so I diligently wrote it on my calendar for future harvests.

But this year, I noticed the Walnut trees turning yellow in late August. I knew they were the first to change each fall, but August? Our August was unseasonably cool. It's usually our hottest month and I felt like it was September. Obviously the trees agreed.

After a big storm, I went to check our Walnut trees and found that every walnut was on the ground.

To be fair, this is not really "our" Walnut. It's in the forest preserve. But I am the only one that seems to know it exists.

I gathered up 50 Walnuts to hull, dry, plant, crack, and store. I will be planting a few of the Walnuts in various open areas in the preserve area. The "parent" tree is at least 60 years old and was planted by my nonagenarian neighbors. They planted 2 of them. Both are alive and well - producing varying quantities of nuts. Both are going to be plowed down by development very soon. VERY soon. It's sad.
A few years ago, I planted babies and they are growing in an area that should remain safe from development. This year, it's imperative that I find more places where these trees can grow.

Black walnuts are very healthy for us. They provide storable fat and calories. That's huge in the frozen north. It's also huge for a survival situation. Plus, they are native trees and they are becoming rare. They take forever to grow and only start producing after 15+ years, really producing after 50+. So losing old, productive trees is sad.
This is our first time gathering the nuts to eat. I have broken them open at various times to see what's going on inside. I've only opened them before drying and found them mushy/gooey. They require drying before they are ready to eat.

**Tip - Do not gather the really black ones. They will be stained and the nut meat will be tainted/bitter. Leave them for the animals or plant them. - Plus they will be teeming with husk worms - harmless but gross.)

This is how we did it.
After gathering,  add some water to your nuts. I used our rain barrel. This makes it easier to keep things clean. Once you get the husk off, you can toss the nut back into the bucket of water where they will be ready for the cleaning process.

To remove the husks, all you really need is some gloves and a blunt object. The juglone will stain your hands/skin/clothes/all surfaces a yellow/brown.

I wanted to do this process as "off-grid" as possible, so we used plastic grocery bags and rocks. We used the bags as "gloves," as a work surface, and as a trash bag.
The husk comes off really easily.  My son pounded all the nuts, I removed the husk, my daughter managed the trash and the camera. We were done in minutes.
All the empty husks were dumped deep in the forest ravine. No plants grow that deep so the juglone can't prevent growing, and they do eventually compost into useful soil.

All the nuts were tossed back into the bucket of water and we had one floater. Floaters usually mean the nuts were undeveloped (dropped early from the tree) or are full of worms. I was scared to look inside, but we did it anyway.
The nut was non-existent. Just the papery cover was inside. We did open a few really black hulls and found endless quantities of husk worms. Super gross!

In the future, we will only pick up those that are mostly green.

Here are the nuts just out of the husks.
The next step is to wash them. I ended up washing them about 4 or 5 times. A lot of husk was still stuck to the edges of the nuts and the water would change from clear to brownish orange each time I washed them.

Be careful with the wash water - it is full of plant killing juglone (It's supposed to be an excellent dewormer and virus/wart killer - but be careful it's toxic to horses and maybe dogs.) I put it into our compost pit. I also put herbicide loaded grass clippings there too. I am not using it in our garden but rather as a place to recycle our yard waste to create more yard soil - which already gets the herbicides... It's a vicious circle. Eventually....nature heals.

To effectively get off the last pieces of hull, you either need to scrub the nuts a bit or throw some rocks in your bucket. Add water and stir.
The rocks help scrape off the last bits as you swish it around - like a washing machine. If you had more walnuts, they would also act abrasively against each other. We just had 50.

Here they are all laid out to dry in the porch.
The acorns had to move over because I wasn't expecting the walnuts for another month. (To see how we ate acorns from our red oak tree - click here.)

Here's a close up of the "clean" nuts. They are still a little gooey, but I think that's okay.

One day later - they have dried to this:
 Check out this great basket I got at a garage sale for 50c. It folds down flat and lets air in on all sides. I think it's perfect for drying nuts....or boiling crayfish...
I will be waiting 2-4 weeks for these nuts to dry out and "cure." This hardens the nut inside and develops the flavor. 

I waited 2 weeks to start cracking these babies open. I grabbed a cutting board and a hammer and went outside. I could not bust them open with the hammer without being dangerous and having shells fly everywhere! So I went back to the trusty two rock system we used for removing hulls.

Using the two rocks, the nuts opened beautifully. I almost got whole pieces in a lot of cases and I was able to crack open and empty 32 walnuts within twenty minutes. I left these 18 for planting:
I was actually surprised at how easy they were to manage. I had read so many horrible stories.

Here are our empty shells (they look kind of cool and spooky)
and our nut meat:
I ate one whole nut before opening all the rest. It was an interesting experience. I had never tasted anything like it. I can not describe the taste. It was definitely edible and okay. Not super strong (I think thanks to the fact that we got the hull off so quickly.) If we had left the hulls to turn the nuts black I think the taste would have been unbearable. It's sort of like eating solid perfume. I had a headache afterwards and I wasn't sure if it was from the walnut, the scent, or my own imagination. 

31 walnuts yielded just under 1 cup of nut meat (I ate one of the walnuts.)

These nuts are going to be turned into cookies. I will update this post when they've been made and eaten.
Wild black walnut cookie recipe

I made these into walnut cookies. Basic cookies that require flour, sugar, vanilla, and 1 egg. In an emergency, I could use flax for the egg and I have the other staples in sufficient quantity. Besides, walnuts can be eaten raw with no other work and they store in their shells for years. 

I ate one cookie and was very turned off by the walnut smell. I am trying to be as open minded about these as possible but I really do not like the smell of Black Walnut meat. I can eat it. It tastes okay, but it tastes like the smell and it bothers me.

My kids, however, ate every single one of these cookies. In one day. My daughter took one and I was anxious at how she would react. She said, "these are good." and grabbed 5 or 6. She ate them in bits, picking out the nuts to eat alone! After she was done eating them, she said "those cookies were really good but they kind of have a bad aftertaste." 

She then ate 3 more cookies.

My son, who hates all nuts, ate 3 cookies. He did not complain. He did not make any comments. Hmmmm..... At least I know I can feed them black walnuts in an emergency. But aside from gathering them for replanting, I will not collect black walnuts again outside of an emergency scenario.

I am now on the hunt for Butternuts. This tree is endangered and I'd love to help plant more of them.

If you want to see our experience eating acorns from our Red Oak Tree, click here. 

Also - I thought it was worth mentioning that I gathered 9 more black walnuts (because they were lemon shaped and I thought they "might" be butternut). After discovering they were black walnut, I left them lying near the trees in my yard. Squirrels came and pilfered all of them within 45 minutes (I saw them!!) It made me smile knowing they were enjoying them. They looked so funny carrying a big brown nut in their mouth. This does, however, change our strategy for drying acorns in the sun....

****Black walnut update***** Ever since finding my first black walnut tree and harvesting the nuts, I have now found them everywhere. Well, not everywhere, but I have found dozens of trees. I have gathered a few nuts from different trees and in different conditions. I have found a huge variation in size of the shell, nut, and shape of the hull. I opened a few nuts that I found lying on the street that were very, very black shelled. They must have sat in the husk until it rotted off. 

I was instantly repelled by the familiar smell, but I ate them anyway. They were okay. I think the smell was less intense in "older" or more cured walnuts and then I could actually enjoy the walnut flavor. Now I am left wandering if I actually like them now... OMG!  I will try roasting a few to see if that sways my opinion.

And the saga continues....

I gathered 11 nuts from the original tree I harvested. Opening them up, I gave them a quick sniff. Yep, still perfumy.

I used the rock method to open them up - I still think it's the best way. I even got 2 whole nut meats!
Whole black walnut kernel nut meat

Whole black walnut kernel nuts meat
Here are the meats from the 11 nuts.
Whole black walnut kernel nut meat
I put them in a pan to roast them when I started to realize some of the nuts were different from each other. Some were darker and more wrinkled. Some were whiter and more supple. I gave them a smell... the darker nuts had way less of the perfume scent. The lighter ones were strongly perfumed.

Here are the haves and the have nots (for scent.)
The center pile contained semi-scented nuts. Maybe they are just drying at different rates and the smell dissipates as it dries out? Could it be???

I roasted these at 225F for 40 minutes. 
roasted black walnuts
They all darkened a bit with roasting. The lighter colored nuts tasted just like they did before roasting but a little more mild. The darker ones tasted like  burnt sunflower seeds. To be honest, I preferred the burnt sunflower taste to the floral perfume taste of the nuts raw. 

My children (who ate the nuts just fine raw and in the cookies) hated them roasted. 

I have yet to figure out why some of the meats were darker, why the lighter meats had more perfume scent, and why they roasted so differently. Were the darker nuts drier? Older? Were they going bad? I don't think they were going bad but I don't know why some dried faster than others. Maybe they fell from the tree earlier or were exposed to more husk staining? 

It's a big mystery and I have decided once and for all that I will not harvest black walnuts again except to plant the nuts or in the case of an emergency.

I am on the lookout for butternut trees (to give them a try) and recently gathered up my first shagbark hickory nuts. I only gathered a few and I really want to plant more of these trees.... It will be a few weeks for the nuts to dry and be sampled, but I will blog about it when we eat them.
shagbark hickory nuts and wild black walnuts, one pignut

There is so much to explore in this world!!!

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Anonymous said...

I got a 1-1/2" thick piece of dense packing foam 8"x12". In it I cut 6 holes just big enough to squeeze a black walnut into and head out to my sidewalk. After cracking them with a hammer I push the nut through onto a paper plate. No finger smacking and very few if any flying pieces of shell.

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