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Processing and Using Black Walnuts

Posted on 05 November 2016   native plants, wild edibles

Processing and Using Black Walnuts

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It’s November, which for us means that we are constantly watching the weather and hoping for cold fronts, which bring the fruit trees closer to dormancy. Cold weather means dormant trees that we can dig and ship to you!

Fall is also the time of the year that the wild and cultivated nuts are ready for harvest. One of our favorite flavors of fall is the nut of Juglan nigra, also known as the black walnut tree. Black walnuts are native to the eastern half of North America and they are well-known for their ability to stain driveways and roofs. They are also a tasty, high-protein, nutritious – and usually free.

We have 25+ mature black walnut trees on our property, so we have no shortage of black walnuts in fall and this year there seems to be a bumper crop. So far, we’ve collected scores of black walnuts for fresh eating, cooking, and propagation. And more nuts are falling! (There’s plenty of details on growing and using black walnut trees in the book Southern Bounty)

I know many readers have black walnut trees on their property or on property they have access to. Here is a quick method of removing the outer husk and getting to that tasty nutmeat. There are probably other (quicker) methods but this works for us:

A recently-harvested black walnut, with husk intact. It was collected on the ground beneath one of the mature black walnut trees.

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This walnut had probably fallen a day or two before we picked it up. The husk is black but the nutmeat contained within the black walnut itself is fine. I’m using a super cheap knife to cut a line around the husk and pulling it apart with gloved hands.

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Green husks are little harder to slice off but the same process works to get to the walnut.

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The husk tends to cling a little to the black walnut itself. This is especially true when removing the green husks. The black part of the husks will stain surfaces and clothes. It will wash off skin with some effort but I still almost always use gloves. The husks make a great natural clothing dye if you’re in to that sort of thing :)

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So once the entire husk is pulled off, it looks like this:

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And with a few passes from a wire brush, you get a nice looking black walnut.

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Repeat the process a few times….

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…. rinse the nuts in water….

….and then you’re ready to start cracking! There are probably better ways to do this…but the hard shells sometimes need a little encouragement from a small sledge hammer. You don’t have to whack them hard – just hit them hard enough the nuts crack a little. Soak the nuts in water a few minutes before cracking to reduce shattering that may occur if they get pounded too hard.

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And once they’re cracked, the nutmeat can eaten fresh, roasted, or stored in the freezer. Frozen black walnut nutmeat will store for at least a year in the freezer.

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To save black walnuts for propagation, select freshly-fallen nuts and remove the green husks. Clean off the nut with a wire brush and then store in a refrigerator for 1-3 months. Plant in containers for later transplant or in the ground once they are removed from the refrigerator.

Black walnuts are a tasty and fun wild edible. Let us know if you have any improvements on this method…plus your favorite recipe that uses black walnuts! :)

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