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The Secret To Cracking Black Walnuts (Nature’s Most Stubborn Nut)

The Secret To Cracking Black Walnuts (Nature’s Most Stubborn Nut)

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Fall is black walnut season in North America, and once you come across a tree you’ll find hundreds of the nuts on the ground. You also can knock them from a tree with a stick, but watch your head. They can hurt.

So, why are they called black walnuts? That’s a good question. If you’re ever seen a black walnut, then you know that the outer shell is a deep, light green. But if you handle one, you’ll quickly discover that they stain your hands black. Thus, the name.

Removing the Outer Shell

Wear gloves when harvesting black walnuts, and gently press the green, outer layer. If it’s soft and your finger can make a dent, then it’s at its peak of ripeness.

In order to get to the inner nut, you must remove the green, outer shell. I usually put the walnuts on either a flat rock or my driveway and gently roll them back and forth with my boots.  Usually the outer green husk will break off, leaving you with the inner nut. This is when you particularly want to wear gloves, as the inner nut will stain your hands.

Other techniques for removing the outer shell include rolling them between two boards or putting them in a burlap sack and forcefully hitting the bag on a hard surface.

Rinsing the Nuts

Soak black walnuts in water to remove the black, outer bits of pulp. Fill a bucket with cold water and dump the shelled walnuts into the water. If any of them float, discard them. Floating means that the nut has either been compromised by insects or the inner nut meat has dried or is spoiled. Good black walnuts sink. Soak them overnight and in the morning, drain the water and refill. Continue to repeat this cycle of refreshing the water until the water remains clear.

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You’ll notice after the first soaking that the water is quite black. Don’t let any of this water get on your clothing; dump the water out of the way, preferably on some black dirt. Black walnuts were used by our ancestors to dye clothing, and any of the black walnut stain that gets on your clothes likely will be permanent.

Drying the Nuts

Once you have sufficiently rinsed the black walnuts, put them on a foil lined baking sheet topped with paper towels and let them dry for two weeks in a dry space. Keep them out of the sun. I’ve found that the garage or basement is a good place to do this. I also found out very quickly that my wife wasn’t fond of staring at a bunch of black walnuts sitting on the kitchen counter for two weeks.

Cracking the Nut

The Secret To Cracking Black Walnuts (Nature’s Most Stubborn Nut)

Photographer: Steve Nubie

If you think you can use a regular nut cracker to crack a black walnut, think again. These nuts are incredibly tough and have a very hard, outer shell. Supposedly there’s a special black walnut nut-cracker, but for the life of me I haven’t been able to find one. Personally, I use a hammer. I’ll wrap a few nuts with a wash cloth or a piece of burlap and gently smash them with the hammer until they open. You can then pick out the nut-meat and discard the outer shells. The reason you want to wrap them in some kind of fabric when doing this hammer technique is to avoid the shrapnel and shattering that could strike your eyes.

Roasting Black Walnuts

Once you’ve cleaned out the nut meat, you can give your walnuts a light roast. I usually rinse them in cold water and dust them with a finely, ground sea salt. I roast them for about 15 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, but taste them after 15 minutes to see if they need more time. I would strongly advise that you do not roast an unopened or un-cracked black walnut.

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The moisture in the nut-meat could cause the black walnut to explode and the toughness of its outer shell could send shards flying in all directions. If you feel you must roast them intact, do it in a Dutch oven with a heavy iron lid. That way, any fragments from an exploding black walnut will be contained.

Storing Black Walnuts

If the walnuts have been shelled, the nut-meat is best stored in a container with a tight-fitting lid or a canning jar in the fridge. They should be good for up to a month. If the black walnuts are still in the shell, there’s good news. They’ll keep for up to two years if stored in a burlap bag or fine-meshed bag in a dry space like a back or front porch or an attic. Don’t put them in the root cellar, as the moisture can cause mold to grow on the outer shells. As always, inspect your black walnuts after they’ve been stored. If they show any signs of mold or have a mildew smell, discard them.

Menu Ideas

Black walnuts are great eaten right out of a bowl like regular walnuts. I like mine roasted and lightly salted and that’s why I toss them in salt before roasting. They’re also great in salads, pressed into cookie dough before baking or as a topping for a freshly baked loaf of bread. I’ve even put them on pizza.

If you come across black walnuts in your neck of the woods, give them a try. It’s a bit of work, but they’re free and they taste really, really great.

How do you crack black walnuts? Share your tips in the section below:





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  1. Open black walnuts by putting them in a vise.

  2. Yep, lots of work, but did some last year for my Grand daughter and me.

  3. My cousin puts them between two pieces of plywood on the driveway and drives back and forth over them.

  4. My grandpa had a wonderful Black Walnut tree – his way of removing the outer shell was to toss the nuts in his gravel driveway and every couple of days go pick the hulled nuts out of the drive. The tires going over them at a slow rate of speed worked wonders. When it came to breaking into them, he mounted a vise on a wide plank long enough for him to sit on when he sat in his chair. He drilled out a hole under the vice, he’d place a 5-gallon bucket under the hole and in the evenings, he’s set and crack walnuts as he watched the news.

  5. We used to sit on a slab of concrete in my mom’s back yard in our worst clothes & pound the heck out of them with hammers. Mom would store them in her basement, and for the most part we just cracked them with a hammer and ate them plain, but when Mom felt like it she would crack some and make black walnut fudge. It took at least a week to get the nasty stains out of our hands (and faces, and arms and…), and we either used the clothes for rags or put them back for next year. It was nasty but fun, and a way for Mom and all her girls to get together.

  6. We usually just put them in the driveway and ran the car over them for a few days. However we used to have an old hand cranked corn sheller that shelled just one ear at a time. That worked great to knock the green hulls off. We just stored them raw and used in cookies and candy.

  7. C. E. Potter net cracker. Made in Sulpulpa Oklahoma.

  8. We have had a black walnut tree in our back yard of our 20 acre ranch since a friend gave me one she had years ago. I’d crack them with a hammer, gently. A lot of work for little meat! Then, when my husbands parents died, we all divided their things. No one wanted this antique-looking strange item, so I took it and noticed it was like a press. Then I realized it was for cracking black walnuts! Yes! So since then, about 5 years, I’ve used it for cracking our huge supply of black walnuts. But this year I can’t find it!!

  9. Oh, and by the way, the walnuts fell off the tree, and after time, they blackened and the thin black dried skins fell off in my hand, ready for the nut to be put into the walnut cracker to crack. No drying needed, I just left them on the ground until they were dried up, ready to collect and to crack.

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