10 Things you Should Know About Harvesting Black Walnuts

My family had a blast gathering, hulling, curing and shelling black walnuts a few fall seasons ago--but, it was certainly a process.  It was not an impossible process--but, it is time consuming and, certainly, not as easy as heading to the store for a bag of ready-to-eat English walnuts.  Having said that--it was great for the girls to learn some foraging skills--and, it was quite rewarding to see our bowl of gathered black walnuts ready to store.  I wanted to share a few things that we learned about harvesting black walnuts with the kids.  What are 10 things you should know about harvesting black walnuts?

Black Walnuts
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Wear gloves and old clothes when gathering and hulling black walnuts.  Walnut stain is a powerful, long-lasting STAIN.  Really.  If you are wearing drugstore-variety, rubber gloves--double up and change them often.  My husband wore those rubber gloves--doubled--but, rubbed holes in the thumbs as he pulled the nuts from the hulls.  And he didn't take time to change.  He had walnut stained, brown thumbs for several weeks.   Somehow, the husband and the girls kept their clothes stain free--but, I can guarantee that they would not have been so lucky had they worn "good" clothing! I would recommend wearing heavy duty rubber gloves (with a cheap latex glove liner)--and make sure that everyone wears dark, old clothes during gathering and hulling!

Lingerie bags work pretty well for curing nuts in a pinch.  You need a a mesh bag--like a potato or onion sack--to cure the walnuts--as they need proper air circulation.  We don't eat white potatoes--or generally buy bagged potatoes.  My sweet potatoes come 2-3 at a time.  My only yellow onion, mesh bag had a hole in it.  One of my daughters had an old Mesh Lingerie Bag (which she never used anyway)--and it worked perfectly for curing the nuts.  The mesh bag did stain from the wet walnuts--so, it will forever be dedicated to walnut harvesting--but, it worked well at the time.

Don't store your collected walnuts *hulled or not* outdoors.  Don't leave your walnuts outside where the squirrels can find them.  They will find them.  We collected our walnuts in large (clean), plastic cat litter buckets with tight fitting lids. We had two buckets sitting in front of our garage and the squirrels (in 2 days time) had gnawed through the lids to get to them.  It literally looked like someone had taken a knife to the lids to cut squares!  Store your collected walnuts safely indoors!

Your walnuts may have worms in the hulls--and that may be okay.  Yeah. Yuck.  We tossed one entire bucket of walnuts back to the squirrels since most of them were teeming with "worms" when we pulled the hulls off.  Well---the husk fly larvae present was normal and common in black walnuts--and probably didn't actually penetrate or affect the nut in any way.  We didn't know.  Now we do.  If the nut shell was penetrated by the "worms"--it will float when put into water.  If the walnut doesn't float--the larvae hadn't made it through the shell.  Gross, yes. But--the nut is okay if it doesn't float.  Test them and see before you toss away your collected nuts!

Cure the walnuts for at least two weeks--if you are not eating them immediately.  It is important that the walnuts dry completely--or cure.  Especially if you are not planning to shell them immediately.  If the walnuts are not allowed to dry completely, they are more likely to develop mold or have a strong, rancid taste due to the moisture they collect.    I hung our walnuts to air-dry in a mesh bag--shifting and rotating the nuts often so that air circulated.  Some people simply dry them over a wire screen so that they are easy to turn and dry completely.

Pinnable images for a blog post about harvesting black walnuts.

Wet the shells before cracking out the walnuts.  I know.  This sounds a bit counterproductive since you just spent two weeks drying the nuts.  However, soaking the walnuts water for an hour or two makes the shells less brittle and easier to crack without the shell shattering to bits throughout the nutmeat.  If you do end up with shell pieces and nut fragments mixed (which you probably will)--add a little water to the mix that the shell pieces should float while the nuts are heavy enough to sink.  Simply strain the "floaters" away.

Break out the hammer to shell the walnuts.  I have a much greater respect for squirrels after spending hours shelling a pound of black walnuts.  Bring out the hammer and plan to shell the nuts over a block of wood or sturdy concrete.  Crack the shell with a couple of hammer whacks, toss the cracked nuts into a bowl--and let the real work begin as you try to pry the black walnuts from those tough little shell crevices! 

Traditional nut crackers will not do the job.   The cute little Nutcracker Set  you got for Christmas probably won't cut it. Literally.  You may find the nut pick from the set useful--but, the crackers are simply not strong enough for these walnuts.  We found the best success with the pick from the Nutcracker Set , pliers, and a ball pein hammer.

Store the nuts in the freezer.  Up to 2 Years.   Whether you shell the walnuts or not, I would recommend storing them in the freezer to help them stay fresh longer.  We shelled our walnuts to conserve valuable freezer space--but, you can expect to get a couple of years of storage life shelled or not.  It is important, of course, that that you cure the nuts properly--and store the walnuts properly in tightly sealed, freezer-safe containers to gain this shelf-life.

Black Walnuts and English Walnuts do not taste the same.  They DO NOT.  A little bit of black walnuts will do the trick.  You won't sit down to snack on a handful of black walnuts like you may with English walnuts.  Black walnuts are stronger tasting--and are probably best suited as a recipe complement or a flavor burst in your favorite recipe.  One of my daughters loves them--by the handful.  She is different.  Black walnuts are different.  If you don't like the taste of them straight from the shell--don't be surprised.  But--don't give up on them!  Add black walnuts into some of your favorite baked goods and recipes. You won't need to use as many black walnuts as English walnuts in your recipes--and. you may discover some recipes where only black walnuts will do!

So--this fall--head out to a park near you and let the black walnut harvesting begin!

Have you harvested black walnuts?  What tips do you have?  Leave us a comment!

Have a favorite black walnut recipe?  Leave us details in the comments!  We can't wait to learn more!

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