Along the Grapevine

Black Walnuts

17 Comments

Black walnuts are another one of those local delicacies which have been largely ignored, or even avoided in the belief that they are inedible. But once I learned that they are indeed edible, and that there are lots of them growing in my own neighbourhood, I wanted some. We have none on our property, but a friend kindly offered me some of her harvest, and I eagerly accepted. Thank you Brenda.  And here they are, fresh off the tree, in October.

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And so began my black walnut project.

1. Peel. This is fairly simple. Just score the nut around the equator with a sharp knife and twist off the outer layers. It is essential to wear impermeable gloves to protect your hands from the black goo underneath which stains terribly. I found it took two weeks for the stain to wear off my one unprotected hand.

2. Wash. You can swirl them in buckets of water, a few times, still wearing the gloves, but we used a pressure washer and it did a super job in just a few seconds.

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3. Dry. Too large for my dehydrator, I put them in the oven at 175 degrees F for a few hours. Because they are so large and I wanted to do it slowly, I turned off the oven a few times, and extended the drying period to about 8 hours. When they felt lighter, I figured (hoped) they were ready. The wonderful scent peculiar to this kind of nut was my first experience with their distinctive, pungent flavour.

4. Set aside to age, for at least three months, in a cool, dry place.

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5. Shell. This is by far the most daunting of all the tasks. They are the hardest nut to crack that I have ever come came across, and I wasn’t too sure if I would be able to continue with this project. We did a few using a vise, but that required more strength than I possess, and this was my project I wanted to do on my own. So finally, I wrapped one at a time in a tea towel, and took a mallet to them on the basement floor.  A rock would also work, as you need a really hard surface beneath. I would not recommend doing it on your furniture or kitchen counter. The towel was supposedly to protect bits of shell from flying into my eyes, but with my gentle approach that was not a problem. The tea towel did help to hold the nut in place while I cajoled it open. It took only a few not very powerful taps with the mallet until I felt the shells collapse. After the first few, I was able to gage the force required to break it into a two or three pieces but not so much that the entire nut was in smithereens.

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If all this seems like a lot of effort, take note that these nuts have such a strong flavour that only a few are needed in any recipe. It is difficult to describe a flavour, but to me these walnuts are to the more common ones what pumpernickel is to white bread. I will soon be publishing some of the recipes I have come up with to make the best use I can of these precious nuts.

Author: Hilda

I am a backyard forager who likes to share recipes using the wild edibles of our area.

17 thoughts on “Black Walnuts

  1. saw something on TV on black walnuts, maybe was
    Dr. Oz. They are very good for you as well as being tasty apparently.

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  2. I wonder if you can pickle the green ones earlier in the season, as you can with the English variety? They are a bit of an aquired taste, but I like them. It sounds as though the distinct flavour of the black walnut would lend itself well to pickling, although I am not sure if the harder shell will.
    I look forward to reading some of your recipes

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    • Thanks for visiting my blog. I have wondered the same thing – about being able to harvest them earlier and their taste. I hope to get my hands on a few next year.

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  3. Very exciting! Do you by any chance have a photo of a nut sans shell?

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    • Hi,
      I knew I should have photographed an open one, but it is impossible to get out a good piece of nut – they are smaller than regular walnuts, and you are working with this big tough shell, plus a very tough inner membrane. So they can only be extracted with a fair bit of bashing. However, for my next post I will attempt to take a picture at least of one open nut.

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  4. You sure do know walnuts, Hilda!
    Speaking of recipes with walnuts, have you heard of a Persian dish called fesenjan (Google it)? It is made of ground walnuts (lots of it) and pomegranate juice/concentrate (lots of it), with meat (chicken, lamb or beef). Of course each household or district of Iran have their own twist to it, but those are the basic ingredients. Now you have me planning a recipe to post. 😀

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    • Yes, indeed I have. I even have a post on it. I made it with chicken and a vegetarian version, but instead of pomegranate I used sumac, which worked very well, and make a kind of Canadian version of it. I learned about fesenjun when I was a child and my father worked in Iran. I understand the original was with duck, but I am more familiar with the chicken or beef versions.

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      • I just checked your fesenjun (endearing way of saying for fesenjan) post and left a comment on it. Wow!
        Now I am more curious about your experience in Iran. Do you remember anything? Did your parent have good experience, I hope?

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      • He was a soil scientist, living out in the dessert. At that time the rest of us lived in the UK, so unfortunately we never got there. After he retired, he was offered a job back there in the fall of ’78 (more than 20 years since his original project) but as you can imagine, that job never transpired. It was his favourite country after Canada and he was very happy there. We still have some wonderful slides he took of his camps, excavations etc. and I am wondering what to do with them. I expect there might be some institution would be interested in photos from the 50s.

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  5. Thanks for this one, Hilda! Although we didn’t get many this year, 2012 was a BUMPER crop, so hopefully next harvest will be better again: ) Either way, looking forward to making good use of them, now that you’ve given us these great instructions!

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  6. Oh! Regarding nut trees: I just remembered something(someone!) you might find interesting… You mentioned being a Radio One person; have you ever heard Diana Beresford-Kroeger? http://www.recreatingeden.com/index.php?pid=8&season=05&episode=60

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    • I’m sure I should have heard of her, or maybe did and forgot, but there are a lot of interesting articles there, one about the Blue Roof farm in Verona which is a neighbouring town. Thanks for sending that, I will continue to browse through it. Am curious to see what they have on nuts.

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      • She is an AMAZING woman! Full of life, love of the natural world and our connection(S) to it. Passionate about spreading native nut and endangered plant species. Would love to meet her someday…

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  7. Pingback: Crab Apple, Walnut and Sumac Biscotti | Along the Grapevine

  8. I met a lady today who mentioned your blog and gave me your link I was excited about checking it out. I am so happy I did I have an abundant amount of Black Walnuts every year and had no idea what to do with them. We have been planting they which makes for more. Thank you Thank you. I am local give me a shout if you want some. Looking forward to reading more of your blog. Wonderful content and photos. B

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    • Thanks so much for visiting my blog and commenting. I am so envious that you have black walnut trees. I would love to try pickling some green ones later in the season. The black walnuts themselves are delicious but hard to crack. And I thoroughly recommend trying some of the sap next spring – it is supposed to be remarkable too. If you are in the area, I look forward to meeting you and would certainly accept your kind offer of some walnuts in the fall if you find you have too many. Do you ever attend GrassRootsGrowers events? There is a plant sale this weekend at Beaver Lake in Erinsville.

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    • Hi. I have so many ideas for nuts, including of course walnuts, and am on the lookout for unripe ones to get started. If you have any kind of nuts going a begging, I would appreciate it immensely. Look forward to hearing from you.

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