Mar 10, 2014

Black Walnuts

By: Lawanda Jungwirth

         Most foods foraged from the forest, prairie and marsh are carbohydrates – vegetables or fruits. In contrast, nuts are high in protein and will provide long-lasting energy.

         I’ll tell you right off that there’s a lot of work between harvesting black walnuts and eating them. So if you’re the lazy type, don’t even get started. But if you’re willing to put forth some effort, the rewards are so very worth it!

         Black walnuts ripen in the fall, with big, green hulls that begin turning yellow mid-September to mid-October depending on summer’s weather and how far north the tree is located. The easiest way to get black walnuts off the tree is to wait for them to fall. Most of them are too high off the ground to reach easily anyway. Once the nuts fall, there is a limited window of time to collect them before squirrels beat you to it. Oh - you might want to wear your bike or snowmobile helmet if the nuts haven’t all fallen off the tree yet while you are collecting. These big nuts, almost the size of tennis balls, could put a serious dent in your noggin!

         Check to make sure the fallen nuts are ripe by pressing on the skin of the hull with your thumb. Ripe nuts will indent slightly.

         The first step in getting to the nut meats is to remove the hulls. This should be done as soon as possible after harvesting, or the juice in the hull will discolor the nut meats and make them taste bitter. There are several ways to remove the hulls. If you have a cement mixer, toss them in there. Or put them in the driveway and drive over them with your car. You can whack them with a 2x4 or a big rock or pound them with a hammer. Some people swear by this method: Drill a 1 5/8” hole in a 2x4. Support the board with a block or brick at each end. Set the walnut hull on the hole and pound it with a hammer. The nut falls through the hole and the hull pops off. Really, that works – it’s on the internet! No matter which method you choose, wear gloves or your hands will end up stained, and it doesn’t wash off.

         After the nuts are hulled, the nutmeats are still inside a hard shell. Before going any further, drop the nuts in a bucket or tub of water. The filled shells will sink and the empty ones and those with shrunken nuts inside will float. Get rid of the floaters.

         Incidentally, those floaters and the hulls you removed contain juglone, a chemical emitted by all parts of black walnut trees that inhibits the growth of other plants. So don’t put them in the compost or in your flower beds. Maybe toss them in a weed bed or something.           

         Now, the nuts need to dry for two or three weeks. They need a cool, dry, well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight where no squirrels can get at them. Spreading them on a wire screen or layers of newspaper to dry in a shed or garage works well. Once dry, unshelled nuts can be stored up to a year in a cool, dry place in baskets or burlap or mesh bags. But if you do this, you’re probably just going to forget about them, so do yourself a favor and move on to the next step.

         After drying, it’s time to crack the nuts and remove the nutmeats. Again, it’s labor intensive, but keep telling yourself, “The reward will be worth the effort.” And it will be. Do you know that shelled black walnuts sell for over $20 a pound at farmer’s markets?

         First, soak the nuts in water for an hour or two to soften the shells. I know, I know, you just dried them for weeks and now I’m telling you to wet them again, but this is what you need to do to make it easier. You’ll thank me later.

         Crack the nuts using a hammer or vise or a heavy-duty nutcracker. Or if you’ve got a lot of frustration to work out, place about 100 nuts in a burlap bag and have at it with a mallet. To use a hammer, place the nut pointed end up on a hard surface and strike the point with the hammer until the nut splits into sections. It may take a little practice, but if you hit the right spot you are golden.

         If the nutmeat doesn’t pop out, use a nut pick to remove it from the shell. Don’t be in a hurry or you’ll break the nutmeats. It doesn’t matter if they break, though, if you’re going to use them chopped in brownies, cake or fudge. Sit back and watch TV or something while you remove the nuts.        

         The shells are really hard, so don’t leave the broken ones where someone could step on them. Burn them in your wood stove for winter heat if you have one.

         If you won’t be using the nuts right away, let them dry on the counter for a day and then store them in plastic bags in the freezer so they don’t turn rancid. They’ll keep a couple years in the freezer or for a shorter period in the refrigerator.

         Try one of the recipes here or find more at and you’ll be glad you went to the effort to harvest those black walnuts! 

Black Walnut Oatmeal Cookies

3/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar

1 egg
1 1/4 c. butter
1 t. vanilla
1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/4 t. cinnamon
3/4 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1/3 t. nutmeg
3 c. oatmeal
1 c. black walnuts
1/2 c. raisins or chocolate chips, optional

Mix sugars, egg, butter and vanilla together. Stir in remaining ingredients. Drop by spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet. Bake at 350⁰ for 10 minutes. Cool. Makes approximately 3 dozen.


Black Walnut Wild Rice


1 c. uncooked wild rice
¼ c. butter
1 c. black walnuts
1/2 c. chopped green onion
1 c. sliced mushrooms
1/2 c. chopped green pepper
1 t. garlic salt

Cook wild rice according to package directions. Melt butter in skillet. Sauté black walnuts, mushrooms, onions and green peppers about 3 minutes or until the vegetables soften slightly. Add wild rice and garlic salt and continue cooking, stirring several times, until wild rice is heated through. Makes 4 - 6 servings.

Black Walnut Crusted Catfish with Maple Butter Sauce 

4 catfish fillets, boneless

1/4 c. black walnuts, ground medium fine

3/4 c. crushed corn flakes cereal

1/4 c. pure maple syrup

1/4 c. butter

Salt and pepper to taste 

Mix the black walnuts and corn flakes. Roll the fillets in the mixture and pan sauté in just a teaspoon of butter. Cook until done. For the sauce, bring syrup to a boil, remove from heat and whisk in the butter.   Serve over fillets.