Monday, September 15, 2008

Black Walnuts: In the Beginning

A few posts back I mentioned that we are starting to harvest the fruits of the black walnut tree. We are only in the first phase of harvest, but things are going well.


Here is a perfect black walnut, fallen from the tree, wrapped in its thick green husk.


You need to get the husk off, and the fastest and easiest way to do that is to run over them with your car. I know that sounds funny, but it seems to be the universally accepted way to do this. It helps if you have a gravel driveway, like we do, or else the walnuts can shoot out from under your tires and take out a window or an onlooker's eye or something.


Next, put on the gloves and peel off that husk. There is a juicy brown liquid inside of the husk which will stain your hands and clothing, so you have to wear something you absolutely don't care about. Then you discard the husks in the trash as they can't be composted.


Then, you set them in the sun to dry. This is a very important step, as failure to dry the nuts will result in a moldy mess.


When they're dry, you can bring them inside, place them in a net, and let them cure for a few weeks in a cool, dark place. Once the nuts are cured, you can crack them and extract the meat. If you sell the meat directly, like at a farmer's market, you can make a nice profit on the side. But our black walnut meat is just for our baking pleasure.

4 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you spelled out how, exactly, to deal with these things! Now please tell me the "easy" way to crack them if I don't have a vise! Several years ago, I'd tried to locate a mail-order source for black walnuts. At that time, there was only one source. I ordered some, but the nut pieces that arrived were too small to have the right look, taste, and appeal that I'd always found in the black walnuts Gma G always put in her homemade pumpkin bread. Disappointing, but I ended up using them on the sides of a frosted black walnut cake.

    Well, Daughter A, who was living in NYC at the time, came home on the train one week, pleased as punch with the surprise she was bringing me. She'd found a farmer at the Union Square Farmers' Market that sold black walnuts, and brought me half a paper grocery bag of them! I was thrilled. But then I had to try to crack them! It took hours and hours, during which I tried every hammer and meat pounder I could find in my house; I ruined a favorite sandwich-sized cutting board (the shells dented it like crazy); and the nuts, shells, and coverings flew all over my kitchen - banging into everything within a 30-foot radius, shooting down halls, into sinks, under stove grates, up stairs, etc.! Of course, I was intermittently laughing, crying, and cursing a blue streak! This was all in the middle of the night, mind you, and was so loud for all those trying to sleep, they probably had nightmares of being bombarded with shrapnel during wartime! Something makes me think this was for our annual Christmas Eve feast, so it HAD to be done right then, as time was running out, but I may be dreaming myself about the time of year. I know it was imperative it got done that night, anyway. What an ordeal!!

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    1. You know, the worst part was getting the skins off by running them over with the car, being careful not to get stain on any your clothes or hands, and then waiting months to cure them. It was such a long process. It's a lot of work per nut, and in the end you always get a few duds where you cracked them open and discovered they were hollow or rotted. I've seen the meat sold at the farmer's market for about $12 a pound. I think that's the way to go!

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    2. I think you are right, as usual!

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  2. Your post also brings back fonder memories of sitting in the gravel driveway as a tiny little girl, probably about 4 years old, and under Gma G's black walnut tree (now I see why it was planted by the driveway!). I had an old glass child's tea set that had belonged to my mother when she was a little girl, and was having a solo tea party amongst the fallen walnuts. Those delicious walnuts would end up in Gma's baked goodies all year long, my favorite of which was the aforementioned pumpkin and black walnut bread.

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