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We have a number of Black Walnut (Juglans Nigra) trees on the farm, and like the chestnuts they are fruiting heavily this year. We have Shagbark Hickories, but they are deep in the woodlot and I haven’t been out to see. The squirrels are still burying pecans as well. One imagines that they may be doing this in response to the early drop in temperature. That combined with the heavy nut crop makes one think perhaps they know something. We are glad we got a jump on the woodpile this spring when a number of trees came down.
The idea of nuts is appealing in winter; the rich oiliness and sweetness, and the comfort of sitting in your warm house and munching away, like a rodent. Yet black walnuts make this complicated. You have to get off the eternally staining green husk and crack the extremely tough nut. Hickories politely husk themselves and are easy to see on the ground with their smooth, elegant white nuts full of sweet deliciousness. The nut is even easier to crack than black walnuts, but nowhere near as easy as a storebought English Walnut. Nonetheless on the Eastern Shore it’s all about Black Walnuts. Their strong flavor is fabulous in cakes and filled cookies. Says I.
So here’s what I recommend. Pick them up in a bucket and lay them in a gravel road where cars will crush the husk but not the nut. A paved road is likely to scatter and smash them more, but husking them by hand is a terrible job. You can them easily gather the nuts out of the mass of crushed husk, and store them until they are dry inside. I thought you had to store them for a few months in a paper bag in a dry place, but it must depend, because I have eaten nuts the same day I gathered them in Virginia. I don’t know how long they were on the road of course. So my best guess is check one from tie to time. Now, how to extract the nutmeats. They sell a lot of fancy crackers, but these were not available to native people. If you hit them with a hammer, they go everywhere. The perfect tool, to me, for walnuts and hickory nuts as well, is a rock. By the creek in Virginia where we camp, I found a flat piece of sedimentary rock and another rock that fit my hand, about the size of an oblong baseball. The weight is such that it sort of drops onto the nut and cracks and crushes it partially, allowing me to pick the nut apart and extract good size pieces without bashing it all to bits. It is a pleasant activity, sort of an atavistic pleasure I guess, sitting on the ground in the sunshine cracking nuts with a rock.
Black Walnut is good for a lot more than nuts. My brother in law, Robert Clickner, a doctor of alternative medicine in Charlottersville, gathers them for the terrible hulls. He learned the hard way to crush them wearing a good pair of plastic gloves. We used to make the medicine with whole nuts, but the crushed hulls make a much stronger tincture*. This has been traditionally used for parasites, but it is also good for hypothyroidism. It looks and tastes like iodine. I take about 15 drops a day.
* If you want to know about tincturing, I will probably have something written by the time you read this, but I recommend Richo Cech’s Making Plant Medicine as the perfect introduction; enough to get you interested and enough to get you started. Actually, despite his fun anecdotal style, he is really quite precise, and you will likely become a fan of his great seed company, Horizon Herbs.