Posted by Tim Vidra / Friday, November 4, 2011
Black Walnuts: Part I
Sure, you can buy black walnuts in the store. They are quite expensive for a nut and I can now almost completely attest as to why. I'm cracking into half a bushel and haven't even gotten to the nut meat because this is one tough nut to crack — and why this post is called Black Walnuts: Part I!
My grandfather foraged for black walnuts and I have always wanted to attempt it — the problem is, the foraging part is easy. Every year in October I get a reminder from my neighbor to tackle this nut. There's a tall black walnut tree in her driveway which every year (but this one) walnuts fall and hit the ground with a thud, then roll nicely down the driveway gaining enough speed to cross the street and end up in my ditch. It's like my grandfather is teasing and talking to me at the same time. Unfortunately, this year due to hurricane Irene, the tree that usually sends much fruit only sent a couple due to losing one big branch.
Passing through Williamsburg I came across someone who had a tree and as she stated, it was like cantaloupes raining when these hit the roof. Jackpot! Half a bushel would follow me back to Richmond.
During stage one and where I am to date, the first pictured walnut balls were left in the basement to soften up long enough for me peel the husk off of 80 percent of them. Once the husk is peeled completely off you have the hard shelled nut. Those go in the sink for a rinse in warm water and scrubbing with a steel brush to clean the hard shell even more.
A couple of notes from what I've learned first hand and after research at this point:
- The husks are highly toxic to horses and the slightest contact or ingestion with a horse could literally bring one down fatally.
- They're mildly irritable to dogs but play it safe and keep the canines away while cleaning.
- Wear gloves — my fingers are still stained from this process even though I did use latex gloves.
- Literally nothing grows under a walnut tree due to the toxicity of the husk after they fall so just be careful where you dispose of the waste.
In this final stage after rinsing, you end up with something that looks similar to the above which still doesn't look like much of anything. This is where you put them away on a drying rack where air can get to all sides of the nut and they dry for two weeks. As I write this post, I walked down to the basement to checked on them and even just 4 days later they are definitely looking more like a hard nut.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks as I continue to "crack" this nut.
Does anyone have memories of black walnuts growing up? Any recipes I could try? I need to do something beyond normal after all of this work!
E.A.T. local E.A.T. well