Saturday, October 27, 2012

Nut Job

One of the wonderful things about living in WV is the bounty that fills our woods and fields through out the year.  This is the time of year to go nut-gathering.  Timing is critical otherwise you find this:

Pile of walnut hulls left by an industrious squirrel.

Black walnut trees commonly grow in the moist bottom land along our road so all one has to do is hop on the ATV and go looking.  We also have lots of walnut trees on our farm.  We strapped containers on the 4-wheelers and headed off for a ride on a lovely warm fall day.

One of the bonuses of collecting walnuts off our gravel / dirt county road is that the minimal traffic crushes the hulls off the very hard inner nut shell.  Because there is so little traffic, one can park in the road and gather walnuts.   As long as the roads are not muddy, the hull-less nuts can be picked up off the road.  If it happens to be a wet period then those nuts become part of the road bed.  A lot of the nuts I gathered were in the road and already de-hulled.

Pre-hulled walnuts collected in the road washed and drying in the sun.

As we were tooling down the road on our walnut-collecting adventure, we stopped to visit with a neighbor.  He happens to have two large chestnut trees in his yard along with walnut trees too.  I happen to love raw chestnuts.  They are commonly roasted (on an open fire according to the Christmas carol) but I have never really liked them this way.  He offered to share some chestnuts so we spent a few minutes in his yard sorting through porcupine-like outer hulls picking up the shiny and brown leathery nuts.  Gloves are definitely a must!  I also picked walnuts (in the hull) out of his yard.

Chestnuts encased in their spiny hulls.

Unfortunately, chestnuts commonly fall victim to the chestnut weevil that lays its eggs in late summer in the outer burs.  As the nuts mature, tiny larvae form and eventually eat into the nut meat. If you pop the nuts in the freezer for a few days immediately after picking, the larva don't develop and the nuts will store without being ruined.
Chestnuts ready to pop into the freezer.

One thing about nuts, they generally come well-protected with outer hulls.  Instead of spiny burs, walnuts come with messy, brown-staining hulls which are commonly used as a natural dye.  The outer hull is generally green when fresh but quickly turns black.  Gloves are a must for working with walnuts to prevent nearly permanently staining fingertips.

Freshly picked walnuts.

Folks use various methods of de-hulling walnuts ranging from putting them in their driveway and driving over them to remove the hull to smashing them with a hammer.  In any event the walnuts must cure and dry before they can be cracked open to get to the nut meat.  Some folks cure them in the oven to speed the process and others let them dry naturally so that by winter, one can sit by the fire and crack nuts.  I have a friend who has described her method of curing walnuts in her blog Dandelion Dairy.

Walnuts have a very hard shell when dried so most people use a hammer.  It seems however that everyone that collects walnuts has their preferred methods of cracking them.  Walnuts are generally cracked from the flat side rather than from the edge as are hickory nuts.  As soon as mine cure a bit I'll be sitting on the floor, hammer in hand trying to get enough nut meats to put in our oatmeal this winter. 

1 comment:

  1. I like chestnuts because of their mild flavor. Black walnuts are another thing. They are too strongly flavored for me.

    Collecting nuts in the fall was one of Daddy's favorite activities. Also, he was very good at cracking them and cleanly removing them from the shell. How are you at cracking and shelling nuts? I hope you're better than I am. You could break your teeth on ones that I shell.