When are walnuts ripe?


Can You Spot a Black Walnut?

October, 30 2014 | The Parklands | William F. Miles Lakes, Walking & Hiking, Parklands Explorer Hikes

Black walnut trees are an integral part of any temperate deciduous hardwood forest. They can grow to a height of 100 feet, live up to 250 years and they are well known for their palatable nuts. They mainly grow in the Eastern United States in rich, moist soils. There are various types of walnut trees with identifiable characteristics. When identifying a tree look at the leaves, fruit, flower and bark.

We are going to take a look at a black walnut, and all the tools you can use to identify one, no matter the season:

Leaves: The leaves are compound, meaning they are composed of a main stem and many separate leaves, as shown below:

Fruit: The walnut is protected by a hard, round, shell. The fruit on a black walnut tree is green and turns blackish brown as it begins to ripen. The fruit grows in clusters and will fall during autumn. The shell contains a brown dye that will stain anything that comes in contact. It takes about 10 growing seasons for one tree to produce mature fruit!

Flower: The flower is a yellowish-green drooping catkin which covers the tree in the spring.

Bark: The bark has deep ridges that make a diamond like pattern and the color ranges from brown to dark gray.

The walnut is a beautiful tree to look at it, but it also has many uses.

The walnut is one of the healthiest nuts on earth and the wood is highly valued due to its color and durability. The fruit also provides a dye that is used to color fabrics and paper. In addition to these uses, the walnut shell, when grounded, can be used in cosmetics, pet litter, blast cleaning and paint stripping.

Interesting fact: Black walnuts are not toxic to humans, but they are toxic to horses. If a horse comes into contact with bark shavings or walnut fruit, they can develop a disease known as laminitis. Laminitis is an inflammation of the laminae (the soft tissues in the hoofs). When the laminae become inflamed the horse can suffer from damaged bones and other parts of the hoof.

Spot black walnuts in The Parklands:

We have a variety of trees at The Parklands, but the walnut tree is easy to spot this time of year. You can look for the broad, green fruits still hanging on the tree or spot some dark brown fruits laying on the ground. The above photo is of a black walnut that can be found in North Beckley Park, near William F. Miles Lakes. The lack of leaves and wealth of fruit makes the tree look like a christmas tree right now. Come out to The Parklands and see if you can spot this speciment and identify black walnut trees other places in the park!

Story by Olivia Kaiser – Interpretive Ranger for The Parklands.

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How to Husk, Shell and Utilize Black Walnuts

As their name implies, Eastern black walnuts are native throughout most of the eastern United States, and here in Indiana (Zone 6) the nuts ripen from late summer through most of autumn. This lengthy period can be somewhat attributed to environmental factors, but is mostly due to the fact that ornamentally planted trees represent many different cultivars from around the country. I have one tree on my property from which I can start gathering nuts in early September, but there are parks nearby with trees dropping nuts from August through October. I can typically find viable nuts on the ground through November.

How to Husk

Biologically speaking, the black walnut is not a true nut, but rather a drupe. Think of it like a peach, with the walnut itself as the pit. In the case of black walnuts, the pit is what we’re after, if we can just get to it under the pesky husk.

Removing the husks can be done a number of ways. Many people prefer to break them off immediately, while the husks are still fresh — and with good reason. When the husks rot, they become a goopy mess of deep-black ink that looks like crude oil and stains everything it touches, even concrete. It can even soak into the shell of the walnut and taint the nutmeat inside, which will ruin it if enough soaks through.

A popular husk removal method is to drive over the nuts with a car. This method works, but is cumbersome and time-consuming at best. The real key to making easy work of husking walnuts is to catch them at just the right stage of ripeness — when they’ve been on the ground long enough for the husks to soften, but not long enough for them to rot. At this stage, they’ll still be green, but will have prominent yellow and black splotches, and many of them may be starting to break open slightly. When they get to this stage, stomp them with your feet right where they lay on the ground, and you’ll break off much of the husk. If the ground is soft, just pick them up, tap them against the tree trunk, and rub the husk off. Even at this stage they’ll stain your hands, so wear gloves if you’re not interested in wearing the “walnut badge of courage” for the next week.

Another method of removal is to let the walnuts dry until the husks turn brittle and simply fall away when crumbled in your hands. The previously mentioned black sludge is inevitable to some degree with this process, so you need to make sure the nuts are located where the mess won’t be a problem. I typically stack two old milk crates on top of each other in my garage, lining the bottom one with plastic bags and the top one with a single layer of unhusked nuts. A bit of black sludge drips into the plastic bags below, and dried nuts with easily crumbled husks remain above. This method saves a little effort when it comes to breaking the husks off, but since you can only go one layer deep or risk the nuts becoming tainted by the rotting husks, it takes up a lot of space if you’re drying more than a few.

Once you get the husks removed, you can soak them in water to make clothing dye or hide-tanning solution. This concoction also makes a decent weed killer, but do your research before applying it to your garden or adding the husks to your compost pile; walnut husks, leaves, and wood contain a chemical called “juglone” that’s toxic to many garden plants.

A Tough Nut to Crack

After the husks are off, you need to get through the hard inner shell, and this thing is no slouch. To give some perspective, black walnut shells are used industrially for sandblasting. They’re really, really hard. A tough shell is one of the black walnut’s defense mechanisms, and it’s a good one. Don’t be discouraged, though; black walnuts are a little labor intensive, but they’re worth the effort and ingenuity it takes to get to the prize.

A common method for penetrating the walnut shells is to bash them with a hammer. This can work quite well, or it can destroy them, depending on your technique. For the best chance at success, use your non-dominant hand to steady the nut on a concrete surface with the flatter side up. Hit it, but don’t pulverize it. Sandwich the nut between towels to help minimize the mess and keep it from being pulverized. This method breaks well-dried walnuts into pieces so the nutmeats can be extracted easily with a nutpick, but I’ve found that it tends to cause more damage to the nutmeats than I’m willing to accept.


Recently I discovered a better way to get a successful shelling. I took my kids to the playground at the same local park where my classmates and I used to play. There are several big trees there that drop tons of nuts every year. A gentleman was sitting on a park bench with a mound of walnuts at his feet and a nice pile of shelled, ready-to-eat nutmeats on the bench next to him. He would take a nut from the pile, set it on the concrete at his feet, and give it a few moderate taps with a brick. The nut would come apart in reasonably uniform pieces, and he seemed to be getting nice, big pieces of nutmeat out with just his fingers. I had never seen anyone make such quick work of shelling black walnuts.

This method really works and has become my go-to. It’s so effective that I doubt I’ll ever buy a commercial nutcracker. I still need to use a nutpick to get some bits of the nutmeat out, but using the brick instead of the hammer results in fewer damaged nutmeats, larger pieces, and much faster results. The weight distribution of the brick seems to break down the integrity of the shell, like strategically placed dynamite breaks down the integrity of a building during demolition. One or two good taps with the brick, and that mighty fortress of a shell simply falls away.

You’ll get bigger pieces using a brick than with a hammer, but you’ll still get very few uniform halves, like you may be used to with commercially available English walnuts. If you’re dead set on extracting very large and uniform nutmeats, you can use a vise to add slow pressure until the shell cracks. While this does work, it’s an incredibly slow and arduous process.

Commercial black walnut crackers are available on the market, but most of them don’t work very well, and the ones that do are pricey. One heavy-duty manual cracker I saw handled one nut at a time and cost $150. The thing would just about break your elbow if you did five or six nuts in a row. But what if you have five or six dozen, or five or six hundred? Machine crackers range from about $500 to $5,000 or more; that’s quite an investment for noncommercial production, and produces some really expensive pancake topping.

Worth the Work

Dry nuts in their shells will remain viable indefinitely, but they’re at their prime when stored in a cool, dry place for no more than a year or so. Dry, shelled nuts will store in the pantry quite well for about the same amount of time in a sealed container. As with most nuts and seeds, the key is to keep them good and dry, or they’ll spoil. If they’re moist when you shell them, you can air dry them somewhere with good airflow, such as a kitchen counter, or finish them off in a food dehydrator on the low setting

Though the shape and appearance of black walnuts are similar to the more ubiquitous English walnut, the flavor is bolder and more distinct. I think black walnuts excel in recipes that normally call for English walnuts, adding a strong quality that’s almost liqueur-like. They’re great in cookies, fruit breads, and other baked goods, and they turn plain vanilla ice cream into a gourmet dessert.

Black walnuts are delicious, nutritious, and, best of all, usually free for the taking! Get out there and get some before they go to waste.

More from American Heirlooms:

• Black Walnut Banana Bread Recipe


Clyde Myers is a journalist and blogger who teaches workshops on foraging wild food plants, acorn processing, and other topics in southern Indiana, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.

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Harvesting walnuts is a part of our fall routine most years. We don’t have walnut trees yet, but our neighbors have black walnut trees and English walnut trees. I normally use the black walnuts for their hulls to make black walnut tincture, and use the English walnuts for their nut meats.

Both types of walnuts have a tough green outer hull, but the hulls on English walnuts usually split open and are easy to slip off. Black walnuts require more effort to hull, and their shells are thicker and nut meats smaller.

English walnuts have thinner husks and shells, and are easily cracked with a lever style nut cracker. In this post I’ll talk about harvesting English walnuts, picking the fresh nuts and drying them for storage in the shell. We’ll also cover the best way to store nuts out of the shell.

Note: The maple candied walnut recipe has moved here.

Harvesting Walnuts

In the fall of 2014, I got a phone call from one of my neighbors – “Would I like walnuts?” It turns out that other neighbors, relatives of theirs, have two beautiful 89 year old Carpathian walnut trees in their front yard, both of which produced a bumper crop that year.

Those trees were sent directly from the Carpathian mountain area all those years ago, at a cost of $1 each, which was big money back then. They came with an apology note about how expensive they were. (I heard this story from the folks who owned the trees as we picked nuts. The farm is still in the same family, and the trees were purchased by the grandfather of the current owner.)

We were blessed with many buckets of nuts, enough to share with family and friends. I had to learn how to process walnuts.

Since then, we get called when there are excess nuts. Some years they don’t have any to spare, but luckily, walnuts can store a long time in the shell. With what we store from year to year, I haven’t had to buy walnuts since 2014.

Gathering the Nuts

Harvesting walnuts (in this case, harvesting English walnuts) is simple. We gather the fresh nuts in a bucket after they fall to the ground. Because we’re gleaning at the neighbor’s place, we only pick up fallen nuts.

If you were harvesting English walnuts from your own tree, you could go ahead and grab nuts off the lower branches as soon as the green husks start to split open. Wear gloves if you don’t want to stain your hands dark brown.

Avoiding Bitter Walnuts

Walnut husks are extremely high in tannins, which are bitter in flavor. The longer the hull stays on the walnut, the more bitter the nut inside is likely to be. In the book “The Resilient Gardener”, the author notes how she was able to gather and use nuts in her area that others avoided “because they were too bitter”. By gathering promptly as they fell, hulling immediately and curing, she quickly had a stockpile of free, delicious nuts.

As we sort nuts, we set aside any that have stuck-on blackened hulls, along with undersized nuts and damaged nuts, for animal consumption. (The chickens don’t seem to mind the bitter flavor.) Our chickens LOVE walnuts, and the walnut shells act as grit.

The video below shows the walnut sorting process. (Make sure ad blocker is disabled for video to play.) We remove the hulls and moldy nuts are discarded.

Walnut Harvesting Tools

For several years we harvested walnuts by hand, but this year we tried a ball style walnut harvester (similar to the Garden Weasel Medium Nut Gatherer). Holy smokes did that speed up picking! There are similar nut pickers sized for larger nuts, and even powered nut harvesters.

The video below shows the walnuts in their green hulls, and harvesting walnuts with a rolling nut picker.

Drying Walnuts for Storage

I was instructed by the tree owners to spread the fresh walnuts out in a warm, dry, shaded place to cure for at least a month before using them. I’ve seen mixed recommendations online on how long to dry. I suppose it depends a lot on your conditions.

The goal of drying walnuts for storage is to reduce the moisture within the nuts to prevent mold growth. When properly dried, the nuts inside should have a nice “snap” and not be rubbery.

At this point, the walnuts should hold for up to three years in the shell in cool, dry conditions (if you don’t eat them all first). So far I’ve stored my fresh walnuts for over two years at a time with no loss in quality.

Sometimes,I spread my walnuts out on the mesh shelves of my greenhouse to dry. (I did find that the mice got a few of them when I used this option.) Once I have them spread on the shelves, I cover them with burlap to keep out the light.

Because of the mouse risk, I usually dry my walnuts in trays in the finished basement or in the living room. I spread the walnuts out in shallow cardboard boxes, or in my black planting trays that I use for seed starting.

Once the fresh walnuts are dry and cured, I store them in the shell. We keep ours in five gallon or one gallon buckets with lids. (Mice do love walnuts, so make sure any storage container you use is rodent proof.)

Gamma lids make it easy to get into the buckets as needed. Store your walnuts in a cool, dry location out of direct sunlight. Don’t store the buckets in the root cellar. We tried this (thinking the buckets would protect the walnuts) and had issues with nuts getting moldy inside.

Easy to Use Walnut Cracker

For cracking our monster nut harvest, I was lucky enough to find a great deal Reed’s Rocket Nut Cracker at the local kitchen store. If you do any serious volume of nut cracking, you need one of these nut crackers.

If you have a smaller nut or odd sized nut, like a hazelnut, just fold a bit of dish towel and tuck it in the cracker with the nut to make sure it fits tight enough to crack. (Looking for a black walnut cracker? Try this heavy duty nut cracker instead.)

This cracker saved so much time and so much easier to use than our old “pincer” type cracker. I got one for our neighbors who shared the nuts, too. To avoid flying pieces of shell, we covered the cracker with a cloth as we cracked. (I cut up an old, worn bath towel, which we use in place of paper towels in the kitchen.)

The nuts come out neatly, too, often in clean halves instead of bits and pieces. It’s rather fun to use, too.

The Best Way to Store Walnuts

As mentioned above, fresh walnuts, properly dried, will keep for three years in the shell. The shell acts as a natural protective barrier. This is how I store most of my walnuts.

Once shelled, the oils in walnuts quickly go rancid. You should either use freshly shelled nuts right away or store them in the refrigerator or freezer for best quality. In the fridge they should keep for six months, in the freezer, safely a year.

You may be thinking, “But they don’t store walnuts cold at the grocery store.” Once you’ve had a chance to compare the taste of freshly shelled versus pre-shelled, you’ll know that they probably should.

Many stores do turn over product fairly quickly, but store nuts are, in general, not optimally processed and not terribly fresh. It’s cost prohibitive.

It’s safe to eat raw walnuts, but we usually take the time to make Crispy Walnuts.

What are Crispy Walnuts?

Crispy walnuts are raw walnuts soaked in salt water and then dehydrated until crisp. Soaking and dehydrating removes excess tannins, phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors.

Maybe you’ve encountered a sore, puckery mouth after eating several walnuts? That’s the tannins.

Some people also get a “heavy” feeling in their belly after eating nuts. That’s the enzyme inhibitors. They’re great for keeping the nuts from sprouting too soon, but can make the hard to digest.

After the soaking and dehydrating, the walnuts taste almost like roasted walnuts. No more pucker mouth and no more heavy gut.

When we want to get nuts ready for eating, we shell a bunch of nuts and process them into Crispy Nuts ala Nourishing Traditions.

Crispy Walnut Recipe

To make crispy nuts, mix together in a non-reactive bowl:

4 cups walnuts (also works with other nuts)
1 tablespoon sea salt
Enough water to cover

Stir and leave on the counter overnight, or at least 7 hours. Drain well in a colander and dehydrate at 125°F for around 24 hours, depending on how crispy you like them.

Store them in the freezer to prevent rancidity. Don’t forget to date and label them. They will keep for months. For even better quality, vacuum seal them.

Using Walnuts

Walnuts are great as a snack, in granola or hot cereal and for baking. There are number of recipes featuring walnuts on the site (you can view our entire recipe listing here). Some of my favorites are brownies, coconut oil fudge and cranberry walnut pie. Maple candied walnuts are delicious and make a great gift.

What are your favorite ways to use walnuts? Do you have any walnut harvesting tips to share? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Originally published in 2014, last updated in 2019.

Walnut Tree Harvesting: When Are Walnuts Ready To Pick

Walnuts are my hands down favorite nuts with the added benefit of not only being high in protein but omega-3 fatty acids as well. Omega-3 fatty acids are touted as extremely beneficial for the heart but beyond that, they are delicious! What better reason to grow your own? The question is, when are walnuts ready to pick and what is the best way to pick walnuts?

When are Walnuts Ready to Pick?

Walnuts may be either English or the black walnut varieties, with the latter having a thicker shell and more intense flavor. Both types are fruiting, deciduous trees that are fairly easy to grow and lacking in few serious issues especially once mature.

They can grow to 100 feet tall and 50 feet across, which makes the tree a bit unmanageable for some landscapes. Luckily, young trees can be trained via pruning. Walnut trees can be grown with a central leader or remove the leader which will encourage side shoot growth and restrict the tree’s size.

A pitted shell encases a fibrous, leather sheath that splits as the nuts begin to ripen in the fall and indicates that walnut tree harvesting is nigh. Once you are done harvesting the walnuts, you can eat them right away, but keep in mind they won’t be quite like those purchased ones at the grocers.

The nuts will be rubbery in texture and are, thus, usually dried which also extends their shelf life. Think your nuts are ready for harvesting but don’t know the best way to pick walnuts? Keep reading to find out how to harvest walnuts.

How to Harvest Walnuts

Depending upon the variety and region they are grown in, walnut tree harvesting starts from early September to early November. At this point, the kernels are light in color and the membrane between the halves has turned brown.

To determine if your nuts are ready for harvest, crack a few open. The nuts should show browning of the membrane and loosening of the hull. Take your nut samples from as high up in the tree as possible since those that are at this height ripen latest. Also, if your tree is water stressed, harvesting walnuts will be delayed. To speed things up, be sure to keep the tree well watered through harvest.

Begin harvesting when you estimate that at least 85% of the nuts can be easily removed from the tree. Delay too long and insects and birds may get to the nuts before your do. Additionally, if you delay too long, the outer husks become soft and black and the resulting nut has a bitter, rancid flavor.

To begin harvesting walnuts, you will need a pole or a pole combined with a hook for larger trees. Shake the nuts loose using the pole. Immediately pick the walnuts up from the ground. If they lie there too long, they will either begin to mold or become over run with ants, or both. The hulls of walnuts contain phenols, chemical compounds that cannot only stain hands but for some people cause skin irritation, so when handling walnuts, wear rubber gloves.

Once you have harvested the walnuts, hull the nuts using a pocket knife. Wash the hulled nuts and then dry them in a single layer on a smooth, flat, shaded area. Stir the nuts around on a daily basis to promote drying. If drying outdoors, cover the nuts with plastic netting to deter birds. The length of time until complete drying depends on temperature but, generally, will be dry in 3-4 days. At this point, the kernels should be brittle as well as the membrane separating the two halves.

Store the cured walnuts in a cool, dry area or to extend their shelf life, in the refrigerator or freezer. They can be stored for up to a year in the fridge and for two or more years in the freezer; that is, of course, if you can stay out of them that long.

By Jackie Clay-Atkinson

Issue #149 • September/October, 2014

While growing up in Detroit, we had no nut trees in our yard (though we did have seedlings before I left home). That didn’t stop my parents, though. In the fall, on weekends when Dad was off work, we’d gather up burlap bags, load up in the station wagon, and head for the country. Some of my best childhood memories include driving down dirt country roads, trying to be the first to spy nut trees on the roadside. In Michigan, both shagbark hickory and black walnut are common in the wild.

Black walnut trees are easily recognizable by their tropical-looking leaves. They can grow very large.

Upon finding a tree, we’d hop out and begin picking up nuts and tossing them into our burlap sacks. We’d often fill several sacks. Then, come late fall and winter, we’d sit around the table and shell nuts, picking out nutmeats for Mom to use in all manner of baked goods.

Unfortunately, in some areas you can’t find wild nut trees so if you’re going to have nuts on your table, you need to plant the trees on your homestead. There are dozens of varieties of nut trees available to plant, depending on your growing zone. But no matter where you live, you can grow some kind of nuts.

Black walnut

These large, heavy nuts are not only hardy but very tasty, too. The trees are quite easy to grow. The squirrels helped themselves to our pile of walnuts laid out in the driveway to husk, effectively planting their own walnut trees. When I left home, we had several black walnut seedlings that were higher than my head and headed skyward.

If you have a source of black walnuts (wild trees or a neighbor), you can simply harvest a few in the fall and plant them in a protected spot on the edge of your yard. Mark the spot so you won’t lose the baby tree. Then watch in the spring for your new tree to sprout. Don’t plant a black walnut near your garden or flower beds as the mature trees shed a chemical (juglone) that is toxic to plants beneath the tree. And don’t plant walnut trees where they will drop their nuts on your car, patio, or sidewalk — they are heavy and will dent a car and stain your walkway or patio.

Like any seed-grown fruit, black walnuts grown from seed may or may not be wonderful nut producers. For this reason, most people plant named varieties or grafted trees from nurseries, selected for their quality of nut production. Black walnuts should be planted in good soil, in an area receiving plenty of sunshine and where this potentially large tree can grow unfettered.

Most good black walnuts will begin producing in 6-7 years. You don’t need to pick the walnuts; wait until they drop naturally from the tree. Black walnuts grow inside a thick, green husk. The nut itself is round and very rough. When I was young, I tried husking these nuts by hand. Yeah, it worked, but black walnut husks contain a potent stain and my hands would be dark brown for days. (Try explaining that to your Detroit-bred school teacher!)

Instead, we’d lay the nuts out in the driveway, put on our old shoes, and stomp the green husks off the nuts. No, the nuts do not crack. We’d even run the car back and forth over them which effectively husked the nuts. It smashed a few nuts in the process, but it was a quick way to get them husked before the gray squirrels carried them off.

It’s a good idea to leave the husked nuts in a single layer to dry so they don’t mold in bags or piles in storage. Use thick gloves to pick the husked nuts up, as they are very thickly coated with brown dye. Once dry, sack up the husked nuts to shell later during the winter.

Black walnuts are hard to crack and retrieve the meats from. This is why few are available commercially and those nutmeats are extremely high-priced. But we homesteaders are a sweat-equity sort of critter and I know I get great satisfaction from eating gourmet food right from our homestead.

To crack black walnuts, take the nut and lay it on its side and lightly hit it all over with a hammer (when I was a kid, we used a piece of railroad rail or Dad’s big vice with the jaws closed). You just want to “soften” or lightly crack the nut, not break it open. Then sit it on end and tap the end with your hammer. The nut will crack in half, exposing large pieces to pick out, using a nut pick to remove the other pieces. It really goes quite quickly. It is a good idea to wear safety glasses as sometimes those sharp little pieces will fly, especially if you get a little heavy-handed with the hammer. With experience, you can harvest a bowl of nutmeats in an hour’s time.

Don’t do this in the living room or kitchen; we used the garage as it is often a messy process. But two or more people sitting around visiting or listening to the radio makes this process enjoyable.

Black walnuts are hardy from Zones 4-9 and can even grow in Hawaii. In arid climates they do need to be irrigated.

English walnuts are harvested as the nuts begin to show in split husks

English walnuts

English walnuts, often called California walnuts, are the walnuts you usually see and buy in the store. They originally came from Persia (Iran), and arrived in England centuries later.

The flavor of English walnuts is much milder than their cousin, the black walnut, and they are also much easier to harvest and crack. They are hardy from Zones 5-9. Luckily, the Carpathian walnut, a variety of English walnut, is hardy in Zone 4, which makes walnuts available for planting to many more homesteaders.

Like the black walnut, you can plant them from seed in the fall, but you’ll have a quicker crop of nuts that are sure to be large and sweet if you buy a named seed variety or grafted tree. English walnut trees emit juglone, so don’t plant an English walnut in your garden. Don’t plant them where the nuts will drop on your vehicle, patio, or driveway.

English walnuts are harvested as the nuts begin to show in split husks — they will often fall to the ground naturally. A few good shakes of the tree by hand will cause most of the ripe nuts to fall as well. (Protect your head from falling nuts!)

Luckily, as the husks of these nuts split open when the nut is ripe, they are easy to husk by hand. But the husks will stain, so use heavy gloves or expect brown hands that will not come clean any time soon. After husking, lay the nuts out to dry in a protected location for two weeks. English walnuts are easy to crack by hand or with a hand-held nut cracker. Faster yet is a leverage-type nut cracker where you sit the nut down and pull the handle forward to crack the nut.


The butternut is related to walnuts although it is a bit hardier and smaller. It is very tasty and worth planting in your nut orchard or backyard. Like the walnut, butternuts secrete the chemical juglone, which is toxic to plants beneath it, so don’t plant it in your garden. As the nuts are fairly large, don’t plant it over your patio or sidewalk or where you park your car.

Butternuts are sweet and not as strong-tasting as black walnuts. As the nut ripens, the green husk usually splits, releasing the nut. If this does not happen, you can remove the husk by stomping it on firm ground. If you pull the husks off by hand, be sure to wear gloves. The husk and nut will stain your hands.

The butternut is a medium-sized tree, often taking years to reach a mature height of 50 feet or so. It begins to produce nuts in about 4-6 years. The nuts are oval with a point on the end, dark colored, and rough textured.

They are a wild, native tree found in the northeast United States. Butternuts are hardy from Zones 4-8 but have been known to survive in some Zone 3 climates.

The pecan nut grows inside a green husk that turns brown on ripening and splits open, releasing the smooth-shelled nut.


Pecans are easy to grow at home, so you don’t have to pay through the nose for all those pecan pies, pecan rolls, and other tasty baked goods.

Pecan trees are native to the south-central United States. But the pecan is hardy in Zones 6-9, although there is a pecan available commercially that is hardy clear into Zone 5.

There are many different varieties of pecans available for planting from mail-order and online nurseries, most having thin shells and large nutmeats with very good flavor. The pecan is a large tree and will begin bearing about six years after planting.

The pecan nut grows inside a green husk that turns brown upon ripening and splits open, releasing the smooth-shelled nut. They are very easy to harvest and only require shelling to use or put up in storage.

Hickory nuts grow in a thick husk that splits when the nuts are ripe, revealing a smooth oval nut with a pointy bottom.

When we lived in New Mexico, my friend Juanita got permission to pick pecans in a commercial orchard where her son was cutting dead trees so the orchard could renew their plantings. She came home with burlap sacks full of pecans and invited me to come over when I could and help shell them for half of the take. We spent dozens of afternoons visiting at her kitchen table while cracking and picking nutmeats. Both of us were avid canners so we ended up with endless pints of wonderful pecan meats. That was more than 17 years ago, but we still have some of Juanita’s wonderful pecans to remember her by.

You can expect pecans to begin setting nuts when they are about 3-5 years old. Mature pecan trees are large trees, often clearing 100 feet in height, so allow plenty of room for them to grow.

Hickory nuts

On my family’s childhood nut foraging trips, we always brought home plenty of hickory nuts. Like pecans, hickory nuts (both shagbark and shellbark) grow in a greenish husk which splits and ejects the nuts when they are ripe. The nuts range in size from about the size of the end of your thumb to nearly two inches in diameter. They are heart-shaped with a point on the bottom and are quite easy to crack to extract the meats. You will need a hammer or lever action nut cracker as the shells are fairly hard. I prefer a hammer, striking the nut’s side about halfway to the stem end. With one good tap, the shell will crack without shattering the nutmeat. After that, it’s easy to pick out the large pieces of nutmeat with a nut pick.

Hickories are hardy from Zones 4-8 and are native to much of the eastern part of the U.S.

The hickory is a large tree, often growing more than 100 feet tall, so be sure to allow plenty of space when planting. The tree is vase-shaped and the common shagbark hickory has very attractive shaggy bark.

Although wild hickory trees do provide lots of nuts, many domestic species have been bred as well as grafted hybrids giving larger nuts and faster growth/nut production.

Chestnuts grow inside groups of prickly burrs which split open, revealing shiny, flattish nuts when they become ripe.
NOTE: The top photo was inadvertently included
in the print issue (#149) . We apologize for the error.

Hickory nuts taste almost like pecans, but because they cannot be commercially cracked and picked, you’ll never find hickory nut meats on a grocer’s shelves.


Everyone has heard the song lyrics “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” at Christmastime, but few have actually eaten chestnuts. This is because native chestnuts, once common throughout the eastern portion of the U.S., were largely killed in the early 20th century by a fungal infection called chestnut blight. Very few trees were spared. Today, there are more chestnuts being grown, often in isolated locations on farms and homesteads.

Chestnuts are hardy from Zones 4-8 and make a large, attractive yard tree, reaching about 40 to 80 feet tall. Besides the native American chestnut, from which strains of partially blight-resistant seedlings have been created, there are also hybrids and other blight-resistant chestnuts available for sale including the Chinese, Seguin, and Korean chestnut.

Chestnuts grow inside groups of prickly burrs which split open, revealing shiny, flattish nuts when they become ripe. These nuts fall to the ground and may be harvested.

The chestnut is very easy to get out of its shell as the shell is pliable and relatively thin, sort of like the shell of an acorn. Once harvested and cleaned of their burrs, the nuts can be laid out in a single layer to dry and cure for a week or so, protected against squirrel theft. Then the nuts may be stored for a few months in a cool, dry location. You may shell them anytime after drying, but be sure to either use, freeze, or can them so they don’t become rancid.

These nuts are very large and sweet. They are especially good after being roasted. Spread the nutmeats out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast at 200° F in the oven until golden, turning them occasionally to prevent scorching.

Almonds have fragrant blooms in early spring.


Almonds have been around for a long time. They were first domesticated in the Middle East and India as far back as 3,000-2,000 B.C. As they are native to a Mediterranean climate, almonds are hardy from Zones 5-9, depending on variety.

Small and airy, the almond tree resembles a peach tree. It has fragrant pink blossoms in the spring, making it an attractive yard tree. The almonds grow inside a green husk which splits open to reveal the nut on ripening. The almond nut is soft-shelled and easy to crack with a hand-held nutcracker.

Almond trees will usually grow between 12 and 20 feet tall, but can easily be pruned to smaller dimensions.

Editorial Coordinator Lisa Nourse successfully grew a filbert crop last year. She is expecting a larger crop this year, if she can beat the squirrels!

Filberts and hazelnuts

Hazelnuts are native to much of the U.S. Fortunately for us, the hazelnut is hardy where we homestead and is (so far!) our only dependable nut crop.

The biggest problem we have in harvesting wild hazelnuts is beating the squirrels. We cannot wait until the nuts are totally ripe, or the squirrels will strip every bush in the area overnight, leaving only the wormy nuts for us.

Instead, we harvest the nuts as soon as the bunches of nut burrs are turning brown. We bring the burrs in and lay them out in a single layer to cure and dry in a protected area. After about two weeks’ time, the nuts can then be removed from the husks and further cured.

American and Beaked hazelnuts are hardy from Zones 3-8 and grow on tall, multi-trunked shrubs rather than trees. Hazelnuts make an attractive “wild” hedge for a property line or yard.

European filberts are a larger cousin but, unfortunately, not as hardy. They grow in Zones 5-8 and produce a great bounty of large, sweet nuts.

White oak acorns are sweeter and require little, if any, leaching to be edible.


While the acorns of most oaks are edible, many contain a good deal of tannins which render the acorns very bitter to the taste.

You can do as the Native Americans did and leach the tannins out by repeated soaking in fresh water, dumping the water, and re-soaking the acorns. But it is much easier and faster to plant or harvest more edible acorns.

Generally, the white oak family has the sweetest acorns, requiring very little (if any) leaching. These oaks include the white oak, burr oak, chestnut leaf oak, and turkey oak. There are also many selected seedling trees and hybrids developed for human consumption, so if you want to plant some oaks to harvest the acorns for food, you have many different trees available.

Oaks are all beautiful trees to have around and most are hardy from Zones 3-9, depending on the variety. The acorns develop all summer and fall to the ground without a husk when ripe, making picking and shelling very easy. Acorn shells are pliable and thin.

As with all nuts, it’s a good idea to dry the nuts for a week or so in a single layer in a protected environment, so they don’t mold in storage.

Planting nut trees

Sources for nut
or citrus trees

Fedco Trees
PO Box 520
Waterville, ME 04903

Oikos Tree Crops
PO Box 19425
Kalamazoo, MI 49019-0425

J.W. Jung Seed Co.
335 S. High Street
Randolph, WI 53956

Logee’s Greenhouses
141 North St.
Danielson, CT 06239

Raintree Nursery
391 Butts Road
Morton, WA 98356

St. Lawrence Nurseries
325 State Hwy 345
Potsdam, NY 13676

Stark Bro’s Nursery
PO Box 1800
Louisiana, MO 63353

Nut trees are basically planted as you do any other fruit tree. The one exception is that most nut trees have a very long tap root. Never cut it off or crowd it in your planting hole. This will either kill the tree right off or will severely stress and set the tree back, often killing it later. Nut trees are most often planted in the spring, with the exception of some coastal northwest locations where fall planting has better results, due to fall rains.

While most nut trees are self-pollinating, two or more trees will ensure a successful and bountiful harvest.

Protect your seedling or young tree from being eaten by rabbits and deer by enclosing the tree in a circle of hardware cloth reaching from the ground up to four feet tall or more. After that, your tree should be able to fend for itself.

While you are waiting for your own trees to become large enough to bear, you might check out the roadsides in the country near your homestead. You can often find wild nut trees growing along the road that you can harvest. If you find some growing inside a fence, always ask the landowner’s permission to enter and harvest the nuts. Most folks are happy to have you “clean up that mess,” especially if you give them a basket of nuts when you leave. But have the courtesy to ask; it avoids unpleasant situations for all concerned.

Another possibility is finding nut trees growing on state or federal land, where you are free to harvest.

Preserving nuts

While you will certainly use many of your nuts fresh after harvesting, you must do something to prevent them from becoming rancid, due to the oils. While you can certainly package and freeze the nutmeats, a more long-lasting solution is to can them.

Canning nuts is so easy. All you do is lay the fresh nutmeats (pieces or whole) out on a cookie sheet and place in your oven at 250° F. Toast the nuts, stirring once in a while to prevent scorching, until they are lightly browned and thoroughly heated.

Place in hot half-pint or pint canning jars, leaving one inch of headspace. Place a hot, previously-simmered dry lid on the jars and screw down the rings firmly tight. Process in a pressure canner at 5 pounds pressure for 10 minutes. If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for directions on increasing your pressure.

Once canned this way, your nuts will remain good for years to come.


Nutty refrigerator cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2½ cups flour
½ cup chopped nuts (Mom used black walnuts)

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add milk and vanilla. Gradually add flour and mix well. Fold in the nuts. Shape dough into two 8×2-inch rolls, wrap in waxed paper, and put into refrigerator or freezer.
To bake cookies: Unwrap dough (if frozen, let it sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes) and cut into ¼-inch slices. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at
375° F for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on wire racks. Yield: about 7 dozen.

Black walnut pie

1 baked pie shell
1 cup firmly-packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp. melted butter or margarine
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. salt
1½ cups milk
2 egg yolks, beaten; whites reserved
½ cup black walnut pieces
2 egg whites

Combine sugar, butter, cornstarch, and salt in a saucepan and heat gently. Add milk slowly, stirring constantly until smooth. Add beaten egg yolks and cook one minute, stirring constantly to avoid scorching. Add black walnuts and vanilla. Beat egg whites until stiff, then fold into hot mixture. Pour into baked pastry shell. Bake at 400° F until filling is set. This is great with vanilla ice cream.

Lemon almond bars


½ cup butter or margarine
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 cup flour

Combine butter with powdered sugar until smooth. Slowly mix in flour. Spread evenly in bottom of an 8x8x2-inch square baking pan. Bake at 350° F for 10 minutes.


2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1¼ cups flour
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
½ cup ground toasted almonds

Combine filling ingredients, mix well, and pour over the crust. Bake an additional 20 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Sprinkle top with powdered sugar; sprinkle through a paper doily for a pretty pattern. Cut into squares.

Cinnamon caramel pecan rolls

¾ cup scalded milk
¼ cup sugar
1 Tbsp. shortening
1 egg
1 pkg. dry yeast (2¼ tsp.)
3 cups flour
½ tsp. salt


½ cup brown sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
softened butter


¾ cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp. butter or margarine
2 Tbsp. corn syrup
½ tsp. vanilla
chopped pecans

Mix hot scalded milk with sugar and shortening. Cool to lukewarm. Add beaten egg and yeast. Add flour and salt. Mix well. Knead in enough flour to make a dough that you can handle but not a stiff dough. Let rise in a covered bowl until doubled. Punch down and roll out into a rectangle about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick.

Make filling: Mix brown sugar and cinnamon. Rub softened butter onto the dough rectangle and spread the filling on top evenly.

Make topping: Mix all ingredients except pecans and spread on the bottom of a 13×9-inch greased pan. Sprinkle liberally with pecans.

Roll the rectangle up, jelly roll fashion, lengthwise, then pinch the ends shut. With a sharp knife, cut the roll into pieces about an inch thick and lay them on top of the topping in the pan (it’s the bottom now!).

Bake rolls at 425° F for 15-20 minutes. Turn out onto cooling racks when hot, removing them from pan.

Spiced nuts

1 egg white
1 Tbsp. water
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ cup sugar
1 quart pecans, walnuts, or other nut halves or large pieces

Beat egg white until frothy, then add water, salt, cinnamon, and sugar. Mix well, then stir in nuts. Pour out onto a cookie sheet in a single layer and bake at 250° F for one hour, stirring several times during baking.

15 things you don’t know about nuts in Pennsylvania

The trees may not be giving us much in the way of fall foliage this autumn, but they are dropping an abundance of nuts in many parts of Pennsylvania. The annual season of the harvest is hitting woodland floors across the state.

Here’s a look at the most common nuts and nut trees in Pennsylvania:

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Acorns have been a staple human food for thousands of years, maybe longer.

Evidence of the nuts being eaten by early humans has been found in cave dwellings dating back into the Paleolithic, the period ranging from 10,000 to 2.6 million years ago.

They were essential to Native Americans of the eastern woodlands, often making the difference between an easy abundance through winter and a challenging time of scarcity.

European colonists quickly adopted them into their foraging and food traditions.

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An ounce – 28.4 grams – of acorn meat has about 110 calories, 7 grams of fat, 12 grams of carbohydrate and 1.7 grams of protein. Acorns are high in calcium, niacin, phosphorus and potassium.

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Even in off-years, acorns are the most abundant nut crop in North America. Oaks produce more nuts than all other nut trees, both wild and cultivated, every year.

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All acorns contain relatively high amounts of tannins, which give the nuts a bitter taste. To make the nuts palatable for human consumption, they must have the tannins leached from them through repeated water bathes.

The more than 60 species of oak across North America fall into two broad groups: Red (or black) oaks and white oaks. The red oaks have much more tannin and are more bitter than the white oaks. Wildlife prefers white oaks over red when both are equally available.

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After the burs encasing them split open and drop the beechnuts to the ground – usually around first frost – the sweet nuts are easily dug out of their thin shells. They are eagerly sought by wildlife and disappear from the landscape quickly.

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An ounce of beechnut meat – 28.4 grams – is half fat (14.2 grams), with 9.5 grams of carbohydrates and 1.8 grams of protein. It carries about 163 calories. Beechnuts are high in manganese, vitamin B6, copper, iron and folate.

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American chestnuts

American chestnuts towering to more than 120 feet on trunks of more than 6 feet in diameter once covered more than 200 million acres east of the Mississippi River. The annual nut crops from those trees were so heavy that residents of rural areas gathered and shipped train carloads of the nuts to market in the cities and sustained their livestock on the nuts.

The species was wiped out as a functional species in the first half of the 20th century by chestnut blight introduced into New York City with some Chinese chestnut in 1904. Young American chestnut trees continue to grow from the old rootstock, but usually die of blight by the time they begin to produce nuts.

Led by the American Chestnut Foundation, efforts to cross American with Chinese chestnuts to give the former the latter’s resistance to blight have been under way since 1983.

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A serving of chestnuts provides about 20 percent of the recommended daily need of vitamin C.

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Allegheny chinquapin

Close cousin to the American chestnut, but with more blight resistance, the Allegheny chinquapin is more like a large shrub that produces smaller chestnut-like nuts. The species grows from southern Pennsylvania south through Florida and west into Texas.

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Black walnuts

The black walnut is prized more for its rich, dark wood than for its nuts. But, the trees occur widely throughout the eastern U.S. – you’ll find a few black walnut trees in the tree line along most any field – and they produce abundant crops of nuts every fall.

While the nuts encased in the green, fleshy globes are easy to find, harvesting the nuts is no easy task. The fruits must be gathered quickly to get them before the squirrels. Then the nuts must be removed from the husk before it begins to deteriorate and saturates the nut kernel with bitterness. Rubber gloves should be worn while handling the husks, which are also used to make a black dye. Scrape the husks away from the nuts, place the nuts on an old window screen and blast with a stream of water from a hose to remove any remaining husk, and then dry them in the sun in some squirrel-proof location. After they’ve dried, crack the nuts with a nutcracker or place them on a flat rock and hit them with a hammer.

Then, and only then, you’ve gotten to the nut meats.

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The nut of the butternut, a close relative of the black walnut often referred to as the white walnut, holds the most food energy of any edible nut. An ounce (28.4 grams) packs 171 calories, 16 grams of fat, 7 grams of protein and 3.4 grams of carbohydrate. It’s also high in vitamin B, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and selenium.

Butternut nuts are nearly as difficult to get out of their husks as black walnuts. And, after the nut has been freed from the husk, the oily kernel will go rancid quickly. But the butternut meat is sweet and worth the hurry to eat it soon after it’s husked and dried.

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Butternut bark and nut husks were once used to dye cloth in various shades of yellow to dark brown. It was such a commonly used dye in the Midwest in the mid-19th century that residents of southern Illinois and Indiana were known as butternuts for the color of their homespun and home-dyed cloth. It was a derisive nickname sometimes applied to Confederate soldiers during the Civil War because their uniforms faded from gray to shades similar to butternut-dyed homespun.

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Hickory nuts

There are more than 20 species and subspecies of hickory trees native to the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. The most common species in Pennsylvania are the bitternut, mockernut, pignut, shagbark and shellbark. The bitternut and the pignut hickories have nut kernels that are bitter, but the other species offer generally sweet meats.

The outer husks of hickory nuts are generally accommodating, splitting into four sections when ripe to reveal the nut inside. The shells of the inside nuts are relatively thin and easy to split.

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State nuts

Pennsylvania does not have an official state nut. Our state tree is the eastern hemlock, which produces inch-long, egg-shaped cones rather than nuts.

The short list of states that do have official state nuts or nut trees are Alabama, Arkansas and Texas, all with the pecan; Missouri, black walnut; and Oregon, hazelnut.

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Peanuts are not nuts. They are legumes that grow underground.

They can be grown in Pennsylvania, but likely will be more productive if started indoors and transplanted outdoors when the weather is warm enough.

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Related subjects:

What do you know about squirrels in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania’s fall foliage: Complete guide for 2018 leaf-peepers

How good is the nut crop in Pennsylvania’s forests?

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Understanding the three ‘crop drop’ periods in tree nuts is critical

While the so-called “June drop” of nuts in almond orchards may be the most visible to growers, the losses then are likely to be the lowest of three periods of crop loss that regularly occur in orchards.

David Doll, University of California farm advisor in Merced County, says since “the nuts have size” at that point, the growers spot the losses.

But Doll says there are greater losses at another stage during the second drop, caused by the loss of flowers that are not pollinated or fertilized. The June drop is triggered, he said, by resource competition.

In a blog, Doll explained the three periods of nut drop. He noted that not all flowers on a tree set a nut. The amount that does can range between 15-40 percent, with the average around 25 percent.

“The percentage varies year to year and is dependent on flower density, temperature at bloom and post-bloom, and tree health,” Doll said, adding that drought conditions lead to stress and malformed flowers and an increase in dropped flowers.

The first period of nut drop occurs shortly after bloom when defective flowers drop from the tree. The second occurs within a month or so after bloom which involves dropping pea-sized flowers which have not shed their jackets.

Larger developed nuts that may have been fertilized may also drop during the second period.

Almond pollination and fertilization can occur over a wide range of temperature. Doll said the ideal for pollen tube germination and growth is from 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Temperatures below or above (that) can slow or prevent development,” the farm advisor said.

“Of even more importance is that the flower only remains receptive for three or four days. Extreme temperatures, rain, or wind can impact flower receptivity, decreasing the nut set. Rain or excessive free moisture can also cause pollen grains to burst, preventing pollination.”

Doll said spur dynamics play a key role in fruit bud density and the ability for a flower to set. He pointed to work by researchers Sergio Tombesi, Bruce Lampinen, Samuel Metcalf, and Ted DeJong which indicated that a fruiting spur, if maintained in a position with ample light for photosynthesis, tends to alternate bear.

The researchers tagged hundreds of spurs and found that spurs may flower the year after cropping but rarely set a nut due to carbohydrate and nutrient depletion within the spur.

“Surprisingly,” Doll said, “tagged spurs that double or triple crop die, regardless of light position.”

Therefore, orchards with a high set percentage deplete the spur pool, leading to a reduced set in the following year. But most orchards are able to re-develop spur positions which lead to sustained yields.

Doll said grower practices come into play in developing and maintaining spurs.

“They include proper irrigation and nutrition as well as adequate potassium levels to reduce spur mortality.”

Doll said the tagging studies also found that the set percentage is inversely related to flower density. This means that trees with fewer fruit buds and flowers will set at a higher percentage than trees with high fruit bud and flower counts.

“This most likely is due to a greater amount of resources able to be allocated to a fewer number of buds,” he said. “But this compensation for the lower bud does not typically lead to a higher yield.”

Diseases and “any true bug that would feed” also play roles in nut drop, Doll said. For the past two years, one of those villains has been the leaffooted plant bug, the subject of another blog by Doll.

He said damage by the pest is evident “as a small pinhole through the hull and shell and into the kernel…Knowing the cause of the drop can provide information relevant to treatment decisions,” Doll said.

“If the drop is due to leaffooted plant bug, a treatment may be warranted. It is important however to determine if the bugs are still within the orchard since the nut drop is visible several weeks post feeding.”

If the bugs have moved out of the orchard, he said spraying may not provide the wanted control.

Kris Tollerup, University of California Cooperative Extension area-wide IPM advisor, said this could be another year for large populations of the leaffooted plant bug.

Although cold winter temperatures have the potential to significantly reduce overwintering populations, it appears that cold temperatures in the fall and winter of 2015–2016 had no significant negative impact on the pest, Tollerup said.

This year, very large overwintering populations on pomegranate have been reported to UC farm advisors.

In another blog, professional forester and natural resource consultant Steve Nix wrote that other nut bearing trees, including walnuts and pecans, drop their fruit before full maturity.

“Sometimes it can be a natural shedding of a portion of the nut crop,” Nix said. “Other causes can be more problematic, including adverse weather conditions, tree health, poor pollination, insects, and disease.”

He said the pecan nut casebearer pest “probably causes more nut shedding than all other insects combined in pecan orchards.”

Other insects that pose a problem include black aphids, walnut caterpillar, shuckworms, stink bugs, and pecan weevils.

Nix said insect and disease infestations increase during times of drought stress, “especially if trees are growing in poor soil.”

My friend has a walnut tree in her backyard. Though walnut season is over by at least a month, probably more, yesterday I went over to her house and came home with a small haul of walnuts, even though, when looking at the tree, it looks like there is nothing left.
Here’s a trick I figured out how to crack walnuts and other walnuts easily.
If you’re saying why is a trick needed, well, if you know how to crack nuts well, good for you, but I and many didn’t know how to do it properly. In the past, when I’d use a nut cracker, the nuts would often escape the nut holder and fly across the room. And if they stayed in the nut cracker, usually the whole nut would be smashed to smithereens, and you’d have to pick out bits of nuts from the shards of shell.
If you don’t have a nut cracker, you might be tempted to use a hammer, but from experience, the same thing exactly happens- the nut either flies away or gets smashed to smithereens.
Here’s a trick I figured out to get the nuts out easily, without it flying across the room, and without smashing the nut meat to smithereens. I’m sure I didn’t make this up and lots of people already do this, but for those that don’t, I figured its worth a share.
First off, about those walnuts. There were very few left on the tree. Most of them were on the ground, and they didn’t look very good at all!
This was one of the better looking ones. Other ones were wet and soggy. That’s fine- those are also good.
All you have to do is peel off the icky black peel to expose the brown shell beneath to get the walnut we recognize and love.
And the brown shell may look less than perfect, but that’s also ok!
All you need to shell them easily is a hammer, a towel, your walnuts, and a hard, smooth, stable surface. I use my marble stairs.
Just place the nut on the towel, cover with the other half of the towel, and give a light hit to the nut. You can do a lot at a time- in fact, more nuts makes it easier. The towel stops the nuts from flying away.
Open up the towel and check to see if the shell has a decent sized crack. If it doesn’t, repeat and hit a little harder, until it has a crack in it that you can reach your nails into. Don’t hit them very hard from the beginning, because this will be what will cause your nut to get smashed to smithereens. A medium strength hit.
Pull apart the shell and take out the walnut. If you aren’t able to take out the walnut entirely because the shell is in the way, again, cover with a towel, lightly tap, until the rest of the shell has a crack in it and you can take out the nut in its entirety.
See? Easy!
The same trick works for almost all nuts that you want to shell. Towel, firm surface, tap with a hammer, pull apart.
That’s it!
Now, is it cheaper to buy walnuts already shelled or not?
Now that’ll have to be covered in a future post.
P.S. Those icky walnuts- about 85% of them were good. There were the occasional walnuts with bugs in it or otherwise bad, like moldy, etc… But for the most part, they were totally fine.
So, tell me, did you know this trick already? Or do you have another way to make sure your nuts don’t fly across the room or get smashed to smithereens?

Coaxing The Black Walnut Out Of Its Shell

Black walnuts offer a signature taste of fall. They’re native to 15 or so states from Nebraska to Virginia and from Michigan to Mississippi. Mike Petrucelli for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Mike Petrucelli for NPR

Black walnuts offer a signature taste of fall. They’re native to 15 or so states from Nebraska to Virginia and from Michigan to Mississippi.

Mike Petrucelli for NPR

Get recipes for Acorn Squash Lasagna With Black Walnut Cream, Black Walnut Shortbread and Lemon-Black Walnut Bread.

My wife bit into a coffee cake at work the other day, expecting the typical office potluck flavor. She was surprised, she said, to taste a distinctive note reminding her of her childhood backyard in northwest Indiana.

It’s a taste that brings back all kinds of memories for native Midwesterners like her everywhere: black walnuts.

She was excited. I stared blankly. Black walnuts? People really eat those green balls that are underfoot all fall?

Of course they do, but a rum cake-eating Italian kid from southern Connecticut (that would be me) doesn’t know that. The trees don’t grow there.

A couple of days later, she came home with a bag of walnuts her supervisor had harvested from her yard and cracked one for me to try. I didn’t have to try many. These things announce themselves in a big way.

If you have never had a black walnut, you probably right now have the flavor of an English walnut, intensified slightly, on your mind’s palate.


Black walnuts are the un-walnut. They taste of the earth: musty, bittersweet and thick. They come storming into your taste buds. If they had a soundtrack, it’d be “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme).”

That’s their appeal. Black walnuts taste like something you worked hard to get — like you did a whole season of farming in just a couple of hours.

But they are divisive. A pastry chef I know gave them a try and couldn’t get past the “oily, unripe aftertaste.” I admit, they still have a raw taste even when toasted, which mellows them some.

People often assume that just because something is edible, hunter-gatherers in our prehistoric past automatically ate it no matter how hard it was to eat. Not true for black walnuts, which are native to 15 or so states from Nebraska to Virginia and from Michigan to Mississippi.

Mark Schurr, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, says that because black walnuts were much harder to process than, say, hickory nuts or acorns, they were often left alone. Schurr, who also studies prehistoric nutrition, adds that black walnuts were on the ground in the fall, when more easily harvested foods were abundant.

Black walnut meats are much smaller than other nuts and are difficult to pick out of the shell, which grows into the meat more than does the shell of English walnuts (which are actually from eastern Europe and Asia). That’s why you only see black walnuts chopped and never in more presentable-looking halves.

Also, black walnut meats are about two-thirds oil. The oil contains the antioxidant alpha-linolenic acid, which is one of the celebrated omega-3s we always hear about, according to Peter Pribis, assistant professor of nutrition at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich. Pribis is studying whether English walnuts, which are similarly endowed, can improve cognition. (If they can, then after all I’ve eaten for this story, I should be able to move objects with my mind.)

About The Author

Mike Petrucelli is the Food and Home editor at The South Bend Tribune and has eaten more black walnuts in the past month than most people eat in their entire lives. He lives in Plymouth, Ind., with his wife and two children, who silently (and not so silently) put up with whatever new food, recipe or technique he happens to be writing about.

Real Corned Beef: Worth The Effort March 11, 2009

One reason people let black walnuts lie is that they are literally a tough nut to crack. Aside from using a huller, people find other ways to break them: a rock (hurt hands; swear a lot); a hammer (drill hole in board; whack nut through hole; make black, inky mess); a car (sweet). One guy I work with put them in a cement mixer with rocks for an hour. It made a mess, but it worked well.

Once the nuts are hulled, they need to dry for a few weeks before cracking. A rule of thumb is to leave them until you can hear the nut rattle when you shake it.

That’s a lot of work, but people do it. And there’s a good reason for it. Ask Midwesterners. They’ll tell you that nobody made a better “(Name a state here) Black Walnut Cake” than their grandma.

That’s the beauty of a native food. Everyone claims it as his or her own. Officially, the eastern, or American, black walnut is the state tree nut of Missouri. That’s because most nuts that people pick up off the ground by the truck- and trailerful (seriously, a guy here showed up with a trailer full of black walnuts in buckets, barrels, bags and the gutted metal case of a Sears battery charger) are sent to Missouri’s Hammons Products Co. Hammons has been processing walnuts since the 1940s and handles about all the black walnuts you see in stores.

If you live in one of the states where black walnuts grow, you can probably get local nuts at a farmers market. Load up: They keep for a year in refrigeration and up to two years in the freezer. If you live where the trees don’t grow, it’s easy enough this time of year to find black walnuts under the Hammons label at supermarket chains including Kroger and Wal-Mart. At other times of year, black walnuts can be found under stores’ private labels or other national brand names. Either way, the nuts most likely came from Hammons.

I’m still working out whether I like black walnut. To a lot of people, it’s a signature taste of fall, and around here, people put the nuts in cakes, cookies and stuffing, or they buy black walnut ice cream from the Amish. But like them or not, if you use them, your dish will get noticed. Just be sure to warn the New Englanders first.


Walnuts are great to keep on hand for a healthy snack, or to add to baked goods, salads, casseroles and other dishes. They’re super nutritious—they add healthy fats, antioxidants and protein to your diet. Just 1/4 cup of walnuts provides 90 percent of the daily value of omega-3 fatty acids to a 2,000-calorie diet. The omega-3s and an antioxidant called ellagic acid are especially beneficial for heart and joint health.

Now that you know that walnuts deserve a permanent place in your kitchen, remember to always refrigerate them in an airtight container to keep them from going rancid. Walnuts bought in the shell and stored in a cool place can stay fresh for up to one year. Chopped and ground walnuts should be consumed within one month or kept frozen.

To determine if walnuts have gone bad, smell them. Fresh walnuts should smell mildly nutty. Bad ones smell kind of like paint thinner. Fresh shelled walnuts should feel heavy when shaken, and the kernel should not rattle. Examine the shell for tiny wormholes, which expose the walnut to air and create spoilage. If the walnuts have gone rancid, throw them away.


Walnuts can take on the odor and flavors of other foods, so store them away from foods like fish, onions or cabbage.

How to Tell If a Black Walnut Is Good or Bad?

Decayed Walnut image by Claudiu Badea from Fotolia.com

The black walnut is a delicacy worth working for. The smoky-sweet nut is seldom available from retailers, but the black walnut tree, Juglans nigra, is commonly grown as an ornamental. If you’re harvesting your own nuts, you’ll put a lot of effort into preparing them for proper storage. It would be a shame to go to all the trouble of getting black walnuts almost ready, just to open the treasure chest and find a rotten nutmeat inside. It’s a good thing there are a couple of little things you can do to tell whether a black walnut is good or bad.

Put on rubber gloves and wear old clothes and shoes that you’re not worried about ruining. The hulls of black walnuts contain a strong dye-like substance that will stain your skin, as well as any hard or porous surface.

Look the black walnut over. The hull should be bright yellow-green, like a tennis ball. There will undoubtedly be brown or black spots or blemishes on it here and there, but that’s all right. If the black walnut has a lot of black or brown on it, or it’s mushy, then it’s rotten and the nut inside may be rotten, too.

Set an unhulled black walnut on a solid surface that you’re not afraid to ruin, such as an old board or concrete block. Stomp on it hard, and roll it around under your foot. The thick, green hull will crack open, revealing the nut inside.

Look at the inside of the hull. If it’s brown or black it’s rotten, and the nut probably won’t be any good. Discard the hull.

Drop the hulled black walnut in a bucket of water. If it floats, throw it away because it’s rotten. If it sinks, it’s a keeper.

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