Black Walnut is a wild edible that’s familiar with most people. Theses days most of world collects the shelled nut meat from the shelves of the local supermarket. But it wasn’t really that long ago that Black Walnut was more commonly gathered from the edge of the forest.
I have a childhood memory of people with their hands stained greenish brown for days after gathering Black Walnuts. The nut drops from the tree inside a thick green husk. At this point they don’t really stain too bad but soon the husk will start to turn brown and that’s when it leaves it’s mark on the world. Eventually the husk goes soft and rots away from shell and that brings my to the main point of tonight’s post. How to process the nut.
The driveway method
Now, the driveway method is pretty self explanatory. In the old days it involved dumping paper bags full of brown husk covered walnuts out onto a driveway and running over them repeatedly with a car or truck until the husks were all torn away. If your driveway is paved it’s going to look somewhat like an abstract painting at the end of the day.
The Roof Method
I’m not sure that the roof method does anything more than help hide the walnuts from squirrels but people simply lay the nuts out on a flat roof or other elevated surface and leave them there until the husk has mostly weathered away. This is normally followed by hand peeling and thus the stained hands.
In order to get at the actual nut the formidable shell has to be broken. If you’re familiar with shelling out English Walnuts you’re probably thinking about the thin and relatively brittle shell. But a Black Walnut shell is so tough that when we was kids we used unshelled Black Walnuts as slingshot ammo. I even had bus driver that incurred major damage to her vehicle because someone ran over Black Walnuts with a lawnmower turning the nuts into golfball sized projectiles.
The most common way to shell out Black Walnut is to drill or cut out a bowl in an oak stump and set a nut inside it to be cracked with a hammer. Native Americans would make a large hole in the stump and drop a large log on the nuts.
That heavy shell actually makes it easy to separate the nut from the shell. The nuts float but that heavy shell sinks. So a bowl full of crushed nuts and shells can just be dumped in a bucket of water and the nuts are then skimmed off of the surface and enjoyed.
Black Walnut does have a bitter taste compared to English Walnuts. Soaking and roasting helps that quite a bit.
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