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Unlike the more familiar English walnuts that are native to southeastern Europe and are commonly sold in most supermarkets, the North American native black walnut is mostly a wild crop that grows in fields and forests and even in urban locations.
Black walnut trees grow wild from Massachusetts, south to Florida and then west to Texas and Nebraska. They are plentiful throughout much of the country this time of year, but the phrase “a tough nut to crack” comes to mind when thinking of them.
Black walnuts are both good-tasting and good for you, so this fall may be your time to get cracking. Pun intended.
Black walnuts have a rich and complex, smoky flavor. Some people even describe them as having a hint of wine in their taste. You may use them in any recipe that calls for walnuts, but be careful. Their strong taste can overpower other ingredients.
For centuries, Native Americans have used walnuts for healing purposes, especially for the skin. The medicinal use is largely due to the black walnut’s nutritional value. Black walnuts are packed with protein, fiber, potassium, magnesium, Omega 3 and Omega 6 essential fatty acids.
Some research studies have shown that consuming black walnuts helps lower your cholesterol and can lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. Black walnuts also are alkaline forming. As a result, they work as an anti-fungus remedy in the body.
When ground into a powder, the dry black walnut shell is rich in iodine. The powder can aid in thyroid gland function and with the healing of certain skin conditions, including acne, eczema and blisters. Black walnuts also can aid in a healthy digestion process, working as a natural laxative.
They taste great and are nutritious, so what’s the catch? Well, black walnuts are hard to shell and they can leave a dark stain on anything that comes into contact with them. To help you navigate your way to the benefits of these amazing natural powerhouses, here are some steps. Be sure to wear heavy-duty rubber globes to avoid staining your fingers and hands.
1. Collect fallen nuts. Harvest black walnuts as soon as the outer husk softens, but is still green in color. Black walnut trees are tall, but you can simply gather fallen nuts or gently shake tree limbs to dislodge the nuts. You may have to hurry to beat the squirrels!
2. Remove the green hull. As black walnuts ripen, their husks change from a solid green color to a yellowish green. How to tell if the nut is ripe? Press down on the skin of the walnut with your thumb. If it shows an indentation, it is ripe. Using a small jack knife, cut carefully around the hull and peel it off. You can blanch the walnuts in boiling water for about one minute to make this process easier.
3. Throw away the hull. Although the hull contains juglone – a toxic compound that can inhibit growth in many plants – the compound degrades with exposure to heat, sunlight and air. Therefore it should degrade completely within three to four weeks in your compost pile.
4. Lay out the nut to dry. The drier the nut, the easier it is to remove the nutmeat. Lay the nuts out in the sun on sheets of newspaper or allow them to cure in a warm, dry indoor place for several weeks. Just make sure the area is protected from squirrels or other creatures.
5. Crack open the nuts. Hand-held nutcrackers seldom work on black walnuts. Some people have their own methods for this process. These include placing the walnuts in a bag and rolling over them with their car or pounding a bag full of nuts with a hammer. Some vises are on the market for this purpose as well.
6. Pull out the nutmeat. Commercial nut picks are available in the cooking supply section of the supermarket. Note: Black walnut nutmeat – unlike that in other nuts – doesn’t come out in one piece. Instead, you will have several pieces from a single nut.
7. Dispose of the nutshell in whatever manner you prefer. Discarded shells are hard and sharp, so be careful they are not where your family can step on them. A good option is to burn the empty shells as a heat source in your wood stove.
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8. Allow the fresh nutmeat to dry for a day or two. Then place it in moisture-proof container in the refrigerator. You also may freeze the nutmeat for up to two years in jars or freezer bags.
- Heed the glove warning and wear old clothing. The juice in black walnuts will stain your hands and your clothes.
- Wear safety goggles when breaking black walnuts apart.
Finally, here are a few recipes for your black walnuts.
Black Walnut Wild Rice
Makes 4 to 6 servings
- 1 cup uncooked wild rice
- 4 TB butter
- 1 cup black walnut pieces
- ½ cup green onion (chopped)
- 1 cup mushrooms (sliced)
- ½ cup green pepper (chopped)
- 1 tsp garlic salt
- Cook rice according to directions.
- Melt butter in skillet.
- Sauté the walnuts, onions, green pepper and mushrooms until the vegetables soften slightly (about three minutes).
- Add rice and garlic salt and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until rice is heated through.
Black Walnut Pie
Makes 8 servings
Pre-heat oven to 325°
- 1/2 cup plus 1 TB sugar, divided
- 1 TB all-purpose flour
- 1 unbaked 9-inch pastry shell
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 3 TB butter
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup chopped black walnuts
- Combine 1 TB sugar and 1 TB flour. Sprinkle into pastry shell and set aside.
- In a small saucepan, bring the corn syrup, brown sugar and remaining sugar just to a boil.
- Remove from heat and stir in butter until melted.
- Let cool for 3 minutes.
- Gradually stir in eggs into hot mixture. Then add walnuts and mix well before pouring into pastry shell.
- Bake for about 60 minutes or until top is browned.
Black Walnut Bread Recipe
Yields 12 slices
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup black walnuts
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 egg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt together until blended well. Stir in the nuts so that they are evenly distributed.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and egg.
- Slowly add the liquid to the dry ingredients until they are mixed well.
- Pour mixture into greased and floured loaf pan and place on the rack in middle of oven.
- Bake for one hour or until toothpick comes out clean.
- Remove from oven and let cool. Place in a plastic bag and store for a day before serving. Bread will keep for a week in the refrigerator.
Check your favorite recipe book or recipe website for more ideas and for more inspiration to get cracking on all those black walnuts this fall. It would be shame to let the squirrels get them all!
Have you ever cracked or cooked with black walnuts? Share your tips in the section below: