How-to: Black Walnuts
Coming home late a few nights ago we stopped the truck at the bottom of the driveway to close the gates. When I came back to the truck Amanda pointed to the embankment, highlighted by the headlights were tons of bright green balls, it looks like someone had tennis practice in our lawn. I hustled through the Pachysandra and grabbed a couple to take to the house and identify.
They were green, roughly 2-3 inches in diameter, and smelled distinctly of lime and pepper – the scent was heavenly. If our house wasn’t too far north I would have thought they were some sort of wild citrus. Cutting them open they seemed more like an avocado in consistency, with a pit like a large peach pit – roughly textured so the flesh sticks to the outside of the nut. After cutting into the flesh it rapidly oxidized and turned a dark brown, and the juice slightly stained my fingers. After much research we identified these as black walnuts, once again I’m astounded by the bounty of food we can forage from our lawn. These can be easily differentiated from Hickory Nuts, the Black Walnut husks are slightly larger and do not have any seams. The Hickory nuts have four clear seams running from top to bottom at each quarter, this is where the nut splits when dried. For more on Hickory nuts see our other How-to post.
The following are step-by-step instructions on how we prepared our black walnuts. After some research and review in several of our edible wild plant books we decided to not only try to prepare the nuts but also take the hulls and make a natural dye (more on that in a coming post).
Warning: As we were hulling nuts we produced a lot of garbage, while it is tempting to add this to you compost pile DO NOT COMPOST BLACK WALNUT HULLS. They contain a natural germination suppressant and will contaminate your compost pile
Preparing the nuts:
Step 1: The first step is to rinse down the nuts removing any dirt and debris. We did this in our sink. As you rinse them look for any worm/maggot holes. Walnuts can pick-up a breed of maggot and they ruin the nut.
Step 2: Put on some rubber or latex gloves, get a paring knife, and start hulling the nuts. The rubber gloves are important, the juice from the nuts stains terribly. You will also want to do this in a place that can’t stain or you can easily clean with bleach, like over the sink.
To remove the hulls we found you can run the knife around the circumference, splitting it down to the pit inside. If you do this twice, effectively splitting the hull into 4 you can then wedge the knife into the splits, twist it, and pop off each quarter section of the hull.
Step 3: Once the nuts are de-hulled place them on a drying rack in a well-ventilated dry place. Let them sit for at least a week, any remaining flesh stuck on the nut will dry up and they will be ready to crack.
Step 4: The nuts store better in the hull, so don’t crack them until you want to eat them. Or do what we did, crack them all at once and then put them in a ziploc bag and freeze them.
We had heard all the stories about how hickory nuts were so hard to crack, but they are nothing compared to Black Walnuts. The only way we found to crack these elegantly is with a table-top vise. Place the nut in the vise and slowly tighten until they crack. You can then use a regular nut-cracker to break them the rest of the way open. I cracked them all with the vise in half an hour and then spent the rest of my evening prying out all of the pieces.