THUD, THUD, THUNK. Each time a breeze rustles the branches, another dozen black walnuts fall to the ground. The area beneath the walnut tree nearest the house was starting to look like a mismanaged tennis court — and it is only one of six walnut trees on our property.
“What are we going to do with all these walnuts?” I asked the farmer as I threw one out for the dog to catch.
“We’ll eat them,” he replied. “I’ll bring ’round the bucket loader.”
Nuts about nuts
The farmer and I are nuts about nuts, but it seems that most Ohioans don’t share our enthusiasm. Each fall we drive over hundreds of smashed hulls on country back roads and see tons of black walnuts left to rot. I have witnessed the same native nut waste in many Ohio Metro Parks.
If you do not have your own black walnut tree to gather from, look for unattended black walnut trees and ask the property owner if you may gather and haul away. The owner is likely to thank you for removing the nuts from the mower’s path.
Alternatively, take a few 5-gallon buckets along on your next autumn hike. If free foraged food isn’t benefit enough, witnessing the changing color of the season will make it worth your while.
How to harvest, process and store black walnuts
- Harvest walnuts when they fall to the ground. Native nuts come into maturity September through October. Collect nuts as soon as possible to avoid mold.
- Hulls soften naturally over time, allowing easy access to the nut. If the hull feels firm and is difficult to remove, set the nut aside for a few days. The best way to de-hull a small amount of walnuts is by hand, with a chisel and hammer to knock the hull away.
Hand de-hulling is tedious to process a large amount of nuts. Some folks swear the best way to remove a large amount of hulls is to jack up your car and spin the wheels over trays of walnuts. Personally I prefer to use The Maximizer de-huller from Pleasant Hill Grain. The Maximizer also works for corn, and can be purchased for about $50 online.
Ohio Nut Growers Association maintains a list of Hammons Hulling locations that will de-hull black walnuts for you. Processors buy walnuts by the in-shell weight.
If you encounter worms when you are removing hulls, rest assured they do not affect the nut. Dispose of worms with the hulls and proceed to next step.
- Rinse de-hulled nuts with a powerful hose or pressure washer to remove debris.
- To dry walnuts in-shell, spread nuts on screen bottom trays for good circulation. Optimal drying temperature is 95-100 degrees for 3-4 days; I’ve had success setting the screened trays on cinder blocks and air drying walnuts outdoors. Walnuts are adequately dry when kernels are brittle.
- Store in-shell walnuts in freezer, packed in food saver bags or other air tight containers. In-shell nuts keep well for a year.
- Remove shell and extract nutmeats before storing. Place the nut lengthwise in a vise grip. Apply pressure until shell cracks. Extract nutmeat with a picking tool.
Shelled nuts keep up to two years in the freezer. Salt-brining and dehydrating preserves shelled nuts. Store preserved nuts in air-tight containers at room temperature.