Monday, October 13, 2008

Aw, Nuts!

Hickory and black walnuts, that is. I grabbed a few minutes today to pick up some nuts under two convenient trees.

The hickory tree is loaded, and right by the mail box. Nuts dropped on me and I picked up those already fallen.

I also picked directly from the tree because its branches hang fairly low. I could see plenty of evidence that the squirrels were visiting this tree too, but this year there seems to be plenty for all.

Up the road a short distance I saw this:

This is the fruit from a young black walnut tree that is loaded with nuts.
The black walnuts are surrounded with a hull like the hickory, except the walnut hull is softer, harder to remove and will stain your hands like store bought walnut stain if you handle them without gloves.

I had no gloves with me, so I opted for a napkin which worked just as well.

People often dump their walnuts into the road on purpose, so that passing vehicles will squash the hulls and remove them that way. I made sure to kick all the nuts into the road before I left so I can come back and pick up some more. The nuts will need to be washed off and dried before we try to shell them, of course, but at least the hulls will be gone.

You can actually make a walnut stain with black walnut hulls. Just cover them with water and let them set for a while. You will end up with a nice dark stain once you strain out the hulls. I think we've also soaked them in kerosene to get an oil stain. It works well on buildings, fenceposts, decks, etc. You can see why you don't want to handle the hulls with your bare hands-- it's a long-lasting stain!

In the 1970's and I believe in the early 1980's as well, a black walnut hulling station came to town every fall. Its arrival was announced in the newspaper, and everyone, from kids to senior citizens, gathered walnuts to sell to the huller. The price was very low (10 cents a pound, I think) but people would gather feed sacks full of the unhulled nuts and bring pickup loads of them to the station. It was extra money that was fairly easy to get, and for kids that was a real incentive to grab a sack and pick up nuts. Of course, kids didn't bother with gloves, so there were many black hands in classrooms in October.

I don't know if hulling stations come to West Virginia anymore. The last I knew of was in 2003, at Weston. Black walnuts aren't just harvested for nuts! As I recall, the shells were ground up and used as the abrasive in toothpaste, there were some uses in the cosmetic industry, and several other surprising products made with the walnut shell. This interesting article covers a lot of information about the black walnut, its uses and its future.

Spencer, just up the road from us, has a big Black Walnut Festival. It used to celebrate the coming of the hulling machine (which moved from county to county all Fall), but today it's simply a big, big festival. They still have black walnut cooking contest, though. I like the black walnut flavor very well--it's stronger and spicier than the English walnut. The nuts are quite hard to crack so if you get enough to make anything you deserve a prize in my book.

Here are some links to black walnut recipes:

Okay, need to know about pawpaws? Visit Janet Smart's blog for that!


tipper said...

Neat post-black walnuts are my favorite. I've never heard of a hulling station-but can see where that would be a plus.

Matthew Burns said...

They still bring in a hulling station every year to Circleville in Pendleton County. It is operated by Bobby Phares there behind the post office on Red Lick Farm. The last I heard, they were buying the hulled nuts for $5 per hundred pounds.

Another use for walnut hulls is hair dye. I remember when I was growing up, the older women who were gray or graying would dye their hair with walnut dye, obtained by boiling the hulls in water and using the water. Let me tell you they were sure pretty afterwards...exactly what color is that? Kind of a brownish purple black. Of course, it also dyed the scalp and stayed on a loooooong time. Vanity will make people do weird

I love hickory nuts. I have a recipe for hickory nut cake that is to die for.

Black walnuts are also pretty good too. I love them in chocolate cake mix cookies.

Granny Sue said...

I'm glad to know the hulling stations are still coming to some places, Matthew. It was quite a big deal back in the 70's but somewhere along the line people quit picking up nuts, or the station quit coming--I'm not sure why the tradition ended.

I'd like a copy of your recipe, if you'll share! Once I tasted hickory nut cake at a school festival that was incredible--I can still remember the taste, 30 years later, so you know it was good. I've never found the recipe.

Matthew Burns said...

Sure Granny. I'll dig out the recipe and email it to you. It also has hickory nut icing!


Janet said...

I love black walnuts. I got enough last year to have 4 quart freezer bags of the nuts when I finished with them. The dried nuts sat around a long time in garden baskets before I got around to cracking them all. They sell the quart bags of the black walnuts at the festival, they're pretty expensive and I asked them about them last year (I didn't go this year)and they said they were shipped in from another state. I thought that was awful having a black walnut festival and they had the nuts they were selling shipped in from somewhere else. I guess people just don't want to put the time and effort into doing them themselves. My neighbor said her mother used to make a hickory nut pie that was delicious.

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