From issue 68
- About Hickory Trees – Tips For Growing A Hickory Tree
- Hickory Trees in the Landscape
- About Hickory Trees
- Tips on How to Identify a Hickory Tree
- What You Will Learn
- Forbearance and Fruit Formation
- Signs that Signal Readiness
- Reaping the Rewards
- Making the Most of Macadamia
- Hi, I’m Ryan and I am selling you the best tasting nut there is: the hickory nut.
- ⬇ Currently selling Shagbark Hickory Nuts ⬇
- Sign up to be notified when hickory nuts are ready to ship every fall
- Delicious! Nutritious! Wild-Harvested! As natural as it gets! Hickory nuts!
- Red Hickory or Sweet Pignut Hickory Nuts for Sale
- Shellbark Hickory Nuts
- Why do hickory nuts demand a premium price?
- Shagbark Hickory Nuts 2019
- Harvesting Hickory Nuts
- Finding the Forest, for the Trees
- Hickory Consciousness?
- Still Curious?
- How To Crack a Hickory Nut
The Shagbark Hickory Nut
Is It the Finest Native American Nut?
By Amy Trubek
Photograph by Amy Trubek
“They are the nobility of nuts,” the chef Odessa Piper says, “what the black truffle is to mushrooms.” Shagbark hickory nuts have “more flavor… more snap, more tooth-feel than either pecans or walnuts.” Unlike most nuts, toasting is required to intensify their flavor and create the shattering texture that makes them unique. Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) is a relative of the pecan and a North American native, widely found in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. It’s hard to miss because the unique bark peels away from the tree in thin strips from six inches to four feet long. The trees are often found along roadsides. On the small dairy farms that dominate the rolling hills of southern Wisconsin, the cornfields and cow pastures mingle with stands of oak and hickory.
Gathering hickory nuts has long been part of rural Wisconsin family life. I went looking for hickory nuts late one fall, when the leaves had turned a vibrant mustard yellow. The nuts had dropped to the ground, their moist green husks now hard and black, having split open along four ribs to expose thin but strong inner shells. Several people told me that when they were young, their families would take a drive in the country and pull over when someone spotted a tree. The kids would pile out of the car and race to see who could pick up the most nuts the fastest. These people recalled with pleasure the nut’s luscious combination of sweet and smoky. But as to shelling… on that subject their eyes tended to glaze over.
Shelling the nuts is drudgery. Once the hard shell is broken, typically with a hammer, the meats have to be pried out. One serious harvester I met uses a dental pick. A pound of nutmeats takes a lot of cracking and picking and scraping — up to four hours’ worth — which explains why hickory nuts are rarely found in supermarkets or restaurants. Conventional wisdom in Wisconsin holds that this activity is for old-timers.
The main place to find shelled shagbark hickory nuts for sale is at farmers’ markets. At the one in Madison, various stands sell them. Harvey Ruehlow of the Nut Factory says, “The old guys are dying off, and the young people don’t have time.” He and his wife, Beverly, learned to forage and pick from Harvey’s dad, who loved to eat cinnamon rolls topped with chopped hickory nuts — it used to be that the nuts were used only for baking.
Note on toasting from Edward Behr
Eaten raw, shagbark hickory nuts have an echo of the curious rancid fruit flavor of another North American native, the black walnut — most people don’t like it. But shagbark hickory nuts respond unusually well to toasting, and they require a degree of it to taste their best. A mere light toasting causes the odd fruitiness to disappear and a superior taste to emerge, like a cross between a regular walnut and a pecan. Enough toasting also gives a satisfying, soft, oily crunch. The effect is so good that either the shagbark hickory or the wild pecan, another member of the hickory family, is the finest native North American nut. (A competitor, once, would have been the American chestnut, before the chestnut blight eliminated it.) To toast the nuts, heat the oven to 250 degrees F, spread them on a metal baking sheet or pan, toast for two minutes until they show some color, stir, and then toast for at least a minute or two longer. The longer the time, the stronger the flavor and the more crunch. Our small group of tasters preferred them after 10 or even 15 minutes.●
From issue 68
About Hickory Trees – Tips For Growing A Hickory Tree
Hickories (Carya spp., USDA zones 4 through 8) are strong, handsome, North American native trees. While hickories are an asset to large landscapes and open areas, their large size makes them out of scale for urban gardens. Keep reading to learn more about growing a hickory tree.
Hickory Trees in the Landscape
The best types of hickory trees for nut production are shellbark hickory (C. laciniosa) and shagbark hickory (C. ovata). Other types of hickory trees, such as mockernut hickory (C. tomentosa) and pignut hickory (C. galabra) are fine landscape trees, but the hickory tree nuts aren’t the best quality.
Pecans (C. illinoensis) are also a type of hickory, but they aren’t generally called hickory trees. Although growing a hickory tree collected from the wild is fine, you’ll have a healthier tree with better quality nuts if you buy a grafted tree.
Shagbark and shellbark hickory tree nuts differ in appearance. Shagbark nuts have a thin, white shell, while
shellbark nuts have a thick, brown shell. Shellbark trees produce larger nuts than shagbark. You can distinguish between the two types of hickory trees in the landscape by the bark. Shellbark trees have large plates of bark, while shagbark trunks have peeling, shaggy bark. In fact, shagbark hickories are particularly ornamental, with long strips of bark that come loose and curl out at the ends but stay attached to the tree in the middle, making it look as though it’s having a bad hair day.
About Hickory Trees
Hickories are attractive, high-branching trees that make excellent, easy-care shade trees. They grow 60 to 80 feet tall with a spread of about 40 feet. Hickory trees tolerate most soil types, but insist on good drainage. The trees produce the most nuts in full sun, but also grow well in light shade. Falling nuts can damage cars, so keep hickory trees away from driveways and streets.
Hickories are slow-growing trees that take 10 to 15 years to begin producing nuts. The trees tend to bear heavy and light crops in alternate years. Good maintenance while the tree is young may bring it into production sooner.
Water the tree often enough to keep the soil lightly moist for the first season. In subsequent years, water during dry spells. Apply the water slowly to allow deep penetration. Eliminate competition for moisture and nutrients by creating a weed-free zone under the canopy.
Fertilize the tree annually in early spring or fall. Measure the diameter of the trunk five feet above the ground and use a pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer for each inch of trunk diameter. Spread the fertilizer under the canopy of the tree, beginning about 3 feet out from the trunk. Water the fertilizer into the soil to a depth of about a foot.
Tips on How to Identify a Hickory Tree
Things you’ll need:
- A measuring tape
- A way to record your observations
- A camera for taking color photos (if possible)
- A photo-illustrated field guide to the trees growing in your area
A hickory’s leaves and nuts provide several clues to its species. Identifying a tree is easiest when it’s leafed out fully in summer or when its nuts reach the harvesting stage. The time of harvest depends on where in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 9 it grows.
- All hickories have compound leaves growing alternately along their twigs. Each leaf has smaller, separate leaflets arranged opposite each other on a central stem, or rachis.
- Leaflets always occur in odd numbers, from five to 19.
- The leaflets have edges serrated like saw blades. They may be finely, sharply or – in the case of pecans — doubly serrated, meaning each tooth has fine teeth of its own.
- One or both sides of the leaflets may be smooth, slightly hairy or almost furry.
- On most species, the leaflets are broad in the center and pointed at both ends. On pecans and water hickories, they’re narrow with terminal ends hooking like falcons’ beaks.
- Leaflets measure from 3 to 10 inches long; entire leaves are between 6 and 24 inches long.
Hickory nuts have round, oval or elliptical husks that deepen from green to brown or nearly black. When fully ripe, the hardened husks split into four easily recognizable sections, or “valves.” Depending on species, the nuts measure from 3/4- to 2 inches around. Shells are between 1/8 and 3/8 inches thick.
Once you’ve recorded its leaf and nut characteristics, use your field guide to narrow down which of the local hickories your tree might be.
Identifying Bark and Twigs
To identify a hickory in winter or early spring, rely on its bark and twigs. Hickory bark grows in vertical ridges ranging from shallow to deep and nearly touching to wide apart. Observe the ridges’ patterns; on several species, they create faint to distinct “X” or diamond shapes. Then note the twigs’ thickness and color and the shape and color of their leaf buds.
Expert gardener’s tip: On mature shellbark, shagbark and southern shagbark trees, the bark plates pull away at one or both ends and eventually peel off.
Get the Recipe
- Wild Hickory Nut Shortbread Cookies
Days are getting shorter as we approach the beginning of the holiday season. For forest trees, this year is what is known as a mast year, so not only is it the right season, but it is also a year of special abundance for wild hickories, and I can’t wait to use them in my holiday dishes. Shopping for chestnuts, hickories, pecans, and walnuts outside of the grocery store may be less convenient, but the flavor is worth the hassle, at least for small batch quantities.
Nuts grow wild around us, untreated and untamed, right in front of us, if we stop to look for them. In the woods behind our house, I tramp along through the dry leaves with my daughter. We look up to see the tree first, then to down to the ground to find the nuts.
We are prowling for shagbark hickory nuts. The tree is so easy to identify, with its characteristic grey bark that looks like the exfoliating crust of a shaggy old treebeard. The nuts are smooth, ivory colored, and come to a sharp point at one end. We don’t have to look more than a few feet because it is a bumper year. If we stay still, we can hear the thunk-thunk-thunk of the nuts falling around us.
If you’ve ever tried a fresh raw nut from the wild, it is an incomparable experience—a world apart from the dried, treated, warehoused nuts on most grocery shelves. The shagbark hickory, Carya ovate, is one of the few indigenous nuts that the American Indians ate raw. And I can see why. When I eat a nut, plain and raw, there is usually a slightly bitter shell-like taste that nips at you at the end, subtle in some, stronger in others. The flavor improves when they are dried, toasted or roasted. The raw fresh nut of the shagbark, however, is already buttery and sweet, all the way through the end. They taste somewhere between a pecan and walnut, which are in the same family.
The fruit of the shagbark hickory tree falls as a green-to-brown fleshy husk or bur, ranging from the size of a golf ball to a tennis ball. The shagbark husk will form a seam which can be broken open easily and won’t stain your hand like a black walnut husk. Inside is an edible seed surrounded by a hard kernel or pit. The nutmeats are what we usually buy in the supermarket as “nuts.”
We peel off the outer husks and quickly discard any of the nuts inside that look discolored, moldy. or contain a distinct hole. Next, throw the nuts into a large pot with a few inches of water. The ones that float are suspect, as they are lighter and may have been eaten by the nut weevil (a grub that exits by a perfectly round hole, found naturally in many untreated nuts), or dried and shriveled. We set the floaters aside to crack immediately, but fortunately, many of the floaters we cracked were still good. The premium nuts that don’t float can be dried and then stored unshelled in the refrigerator or frozen for a longer shelf life.
To crack the nuts, we prefer a tap with a hammer on a stone (not wood or concrete) surface (our porch). If you are indoors, cover the nut with a cloth to prevent any chips from flying around. Shell the nuts with a nut pick. The nut pick looks a little bit like a dentist’s tool and has a small curve at the end. Wedge the pick between the nutmeat and the shell and coax the nut out, as close to whole as possible. When the nut is so very fresh, you can literally see the buttery oil in some of the nuts. After a few days or if they are cracked, the nuts will dry slightly and separate from the shell, making them easier to extract.
Other than eating them straight out of the shell (in small amounts—other nuts do contain enzymes which may make them more difficult to digest in large quantities), they can be toasted or lightly baked for 10 minutes in a 200º F oven. You can substitute wild hickory nuts for walnuts or pecans in any of your favorite holiday recipes. And save the shells for your fire or firepit and November’s column!
Wild Hickory Nut Shortbread Cookies
View Recipe ”
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We’ve already discussed how to grow and care for the two types of edible macadamia, the smooth-shelled Queensland variety, M. integrifolia, and the rough-shelled M. tetraphylla.
Native to Australia, they grow well in home gardens in USDA Hardiness Zones 9 to 11.
In this guide, we focus on harvesting. You will learn when nuts ripen, what they look like, and how to gather your crop. Here’s what’s to come:
What You Will Learn
- Forbearance and Fruit Formation
- Signs that Signal Readiness
- Reaping the Rewards
- Making the Most of Macadamia
Let’s get started!
Forbearance and Fruit Formation
Macadamia cultivation generally begins with a vegetatively propagated plant from a reputable nursery.
The average cultivar lives from 40 to 60 years. It begins to set fruit at six or seven years old. By the age of 10 or so, it reaches maturity and produces a 30- to 50- pound yield. Over the course of its life, the yield generally increases.
But prepare to be amazed, because some remarkable statistics have been documented. One tree in Coronado, California produced 270 pounds of nuts in one year, and another in Queensland, Australia is still alive at the ripe old age of 140.
That’s a long time, and a lot of nuts, so let’s find out when and how to harvest them all!
Signs that Signal Readiness
The fruiting season for macadamia begins in late autumn and continues through spring. The time to ripen varies by cultivar, but all varieties bear fruit continuously during their fruiting period, as opposed to all at once.
It’s not hard to tell when macadamias are ripe. Their husks begin to dry out, lose their tackiness, and gradually change from bright green to brown. They shrink and split open, their split edges turn brown, and the brown nut inside becomes visible.
There are varieties like ‘Cate,’ ‘James,’ and ‘Vista’ that “self-harvest,” and drop ripe fruit. This makes the job easy. Some people like to leave a tarp under them to collect their crop. I’m not a fan, as it may gather rainwater, rot your harvest, and damage the lawn below.
Instead, visit the tree or trees each day to reap what has dropped. Be sure to remove all fallen fruit, to keep hungry rodents away. Once gathered, remove the husks. Evaluate the shells within, and discard any that look moldy or damaged.
You may be tempted to shake the tree to loosen nuts, but don’t. Macadamia branches are on the brittle side, and you may injure them. In addition, unripe nuts may fall.
For cultivars that don’t drop fruit, you’ll need to judge their readiness.
If they appear as described, place a tarp temporarily beneath the tree. Use a long pole to gently tap the branches (no shaking) and release ripe nuts. Some branches may bear a single fruit, while others may hold multiples in clusters.
When you’re through, put the tarp away for next time.
You could use a fruit-picking tool with a basket on the end, but I don’t recommend it. You may inadvertently catch it on unripe fruit, causing it to fall.
Reaping the Rewards
When a beautiful tree like the macadamia produces an abundance of nuts, it’s truly a sight to behold – and a mess to clean up!
Take the bending out of gathering your harvest with useful tools, such as the Garden Weasel Large Nut Gatherer. Simply roll it along to gather your crop and slide the wire cage spreader to release it.
Garden Weasel Large Nut Gatherer
The handle is carbon steel welded with a comfort hand grip, and the wire cage is made of tempered steel. A lifetime warranty is included. You can buy this product now on Amazon.
Or, go all out with Bag-A-Nut’s 18-inch Push Harvester. Sweep your crop up as you push, collecting it in a removable basket.
18″ Push Sweet Gum Balls, English Walnut and Macadamia Harvester
It’s made in the USA and manufactured using 30% pre-consumer recycled plastic. You can find this product on Amazon.
Gather your harvest often, especially in damp weather, so it doesn’t rot or attract rodents.
Each time you collect a fresh batch, remove the husks immediately. Place the brown-shell nuts on wire racks in a cool, dry place to dry out for two to three weeks. As they dry, the nutmeats, or kernels, shrink away from the shell, and will come out easily when cracked.
Macadamia shells are very hard to crack, so be prepared to do the job with a hammer or vise. Use kernels immediately, store, or freeze.
Making the Most of Macadamia
Knowing when and how to harvest will go a long way toward optimal results.
To recap, macadamias are ready to harvest when:
- They reach about 1 inch in diameter.
- Green husks begin to turn brown, shrink, and split.
- Split husks show brown edges.
- Brown shells are visible inside split husks.
- Husks feel dry to the touch, not tacky.
- “Self-harvesting” fruit begins to fall to the ground.
And remember to:
- Harvest often.
- Pick up promptly.
- Remove husks immediately after harvest.
- Dry kernels in-shell for two to three weeks before using, storing, or freezing.
- Discard husks or shells that look moldy, damaged, or unripe.
A macadamia tree isn’t just another pretty face in the landscape. When it reaches maturity, it yields an abundance of sweet, creamy nuts that demand a king’s ransom on the market today.
If you’re in USDA Hardiness Zones 9 to 11, I truly envy you! I can only imagine being able to go out to the backyard to get fresh nuts for holiday baking.
Please read our previous article, “How to Grow and Care for a Macadamia Nut Tree,” for all you need to know about topics including growing, maintaining, cultivar selection, pests and disease, storage, and recipes. Then schedule a trip to your local nursery to choose a new edible addition to your property!
© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Garden Weasel and Bag-A-Nut. Uncredited photos: .
About Nan Schiller
Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!
Chef Odessa Piper said “They are the nobility of nuts, what the black truffle is to mushrooms.” I sure do agree with you Odessa. Hickory nuts are in a class unto themselves. I love hickory nuts so much that I want everyone to try them.
I even draw hickory nuts in my spare time!
I just eat them totally raw. I crack them and pick at them until I have a huge pile. Then I just dump the pile into my mouth. Better than any nut in the grocery store! This year I’ve been into the Texan York Nut Huller.
If you can lightly roast them for fifteen minutes they taste even better yet!
- Eat them raw.
- Sprinkle them on your cup cakes.
- Make a delicious milk from them.
- Use that to make a sweet hickory syrup.
- Oh man.
This year I’m only selling only shagbark and sweet pignut hickory nuts; which are the most rare of the edible hickory nuts. These hickory nuts were harvested in the autumn of 2019 from happy and wild trees in Adams County, Pennsylvania. I lovingly separate out the Grade A nuts. You can read more about the process here or watch my YouTube channel where I’m chronicling my experience harvesting, processing, and selling hickory nuts.
You can purchase by simply adding the nuts below to your cart and checking out. You can pay with credit card, PayPal, Check, Money Order, or you can send me cash. 🙂
Call me at 610-910-9764 with questions or to place an order.
⬇ Currently selling Shagbark Hickory Nuts ⬇
Delicious, nutritious Grade A SHAGBARK hickory nuts cracked in the shells.
$11.00 – $100.00
Sign up to be notified when hickory nuts are ready to ship every fall
Just drop your email address in the box below to sign up for the yearly alert. Every autumn whenever the hickory nuts are ready to ship I’ll send you an email letting you know.
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Delicious! Nutritious! Wild-Harvested! As natural as it gets! Hickory nuts!
Ben loves hickory nuts!
Red Hickory or Sweet Pignut Hickory Nuts for Sale
Currently sold out of Sweet Pignut Hickory Nuts!
I’m very excited to announce that I am now offering Red Hickory Nuts (or Sweet Pignut Hickory nuts or Carya ovalis). In 2019 I discovered a single, prolific tree.
These are extremely rare. In 2018 I mapped over 300 hickory trees and this is the only one I’ve seen so far. I tried a few of these Red Hickory Nuts and they are delicious. Honestly, they reminded me of Shellbarks. They still have that hickory flavor, but they are sweeter and less “nutty” than Shagbarks. In fact they even taste like bananas like Shellbarks do. Speaking of Shellbarks, below you can buy some of the seven pounds I harvested.
Both Sweet Pignuts and Shellbarks can be tough to crack though, so I recommend that you purchase these cracked from me (unless you have a black walnut cracker).
Because they are so rare I only got a few pounds this year. They are priced accordingly
Shellbark Hickory Nuts
Currently sold out of Shellbark Hickory Nuts!
These were already rare nuts, but this year there are even less. They say that nut trees go light for two years and then every third year they just put out tons of nuts. Well, in 2018 the shellbark trees put out a lot of nuts. In 2019, not so much. And there are only five or six trees that I know of. I only harvested about seven pounds this year. I am selling them for the same price anyway, so get them while they last!
What’s up with Shellbarks anyway? Well, they are less “nutty” than shagbarks. They are sweeter and almost taste like bananas. They are larger than shagbarks. They are also very difficult to crack. Make sure you either have a black walnut cracker or you buy them from me already cracked.
Why do hickory nuts demand a premium price?
- They taste amazing. Like a cross between an English Walnut and Pecan
- The nuts are high in magnesium and iron
- They are particular about where they grow (limestone)
- The trees take up 25 years before they fruit
- The window of harvest is short (a few weeks)
- They are not commercially available
- Harvest is manual and time consuming
- Processing is manual and even more time consuming
- You have to beat the squirrels!
Shagbark Hickory Nuts 2019
Delicious, nutritious Grade A SHAGBARK hickory nuts cracked in the shells.
$11.00 – $100.00
Harvesting Hickory Nuts
My wife and I have noted that the larger stores resell our nuts for as much as 60¢ a pound, while a local co-op only asks 46¢ for the same quantity. Either way, though, the customer gets tasty meatless protein for a price that’s less than half that charged for most other sources of this necessary substance. In other words, nobody gets ripped off in these wild hickory nut transactions.
And because of the low price, good taste, and “folksy” appeal, wild hickory nuts do sell easily. Last year we marketed a total of 450 pounds (all that we could spare), which put a handy $180 in the ol’ sugar bowl!
Finding the Forest, for the Trees
If you live almost anywhere in the eastern two-thirds of the continent between southern Ontario and Florida, you’re probably within a few miles of one species of hickory or another. The trees usually can be found in rich, reasonably moist soil, both in forests and bordering cleared land. City folks often can locate substantial stands of these darkbarked giants in parks or along those (usually older) streets that have been able to preserve their shade trees despite the “lop ’em off’ pressures of the phone and power companies.
Even in heavily populated areas, there generally isn’t much competition for the hickory nut harvest. Most people, it seems, don’t know one of the hard-shelled goodies from a cereal commercial. And those who do can be pretty much divided into two groups: The folks who would rather have someone else (like you) gather and sell the harvest so that they can buy it and not risk the stigma (?) of being seen foraging themselves, and the poor unfortunates who—out of ignorance—think that the tough husks and small meats make hickory nuts just plain not worth the bother.
So (luckily for you) with so much misinformation around, you probably won’t have to fight too hard for ground space under your favorite tree. And that “private” hickory won’t be difficult to identify, either. Most any library should have an assortment of field guides that will do the job. Furthermore, as soon as you’ve located just one of these trees, you’ll probably become aware of a number of others all around you that you’ve been overlooking for years (once your eyes have been opened, there’s something distinctive about a hickory). Don’t worry about which of the several species of the tree you find yourself under, either. Though they do vary in the quality of their flavor, any mature and healthy hickory nut you’re likely to find will be “good enough to eat.”
And here’s another tip: Keep an eye peeled, too, for old dead trees and fallen limbs in any group of hickories that you discover. The dry wood makes an exceptional fuel. It burns long and hot and the smoke has a pleasant aroma. In fact, as I’m sure you know, hickory is the preferred wood for smokehouse use.
Which, of course, is why we’ve found that some markets—in addition to the nuts that we sell—are glad to buy split and sacked hickory wood. However, if you try your hand at this business, please remember to salvage only individual timbers that have no recent growth. Living hickories are too valuable—and beautiful—to be turned into fuel.
And save some of that wood and those nuts for yourself, too! A good portion of our hickory harvest, wood and nuts, ends up on and in our cookstove when we prepare “special” goodies for all those holidays coming up. The nutmeats can be substituted in (and will improve) any recipe that calls for walnuts or pecans. And hickory nut bread—especially when baked over a hickory fire—is several magnitudes of delicious better than ambrosia!
All over America, every day, land is converted—violently—from forest to field. Though federal agencies and lumber companies do sometimes replant, they seem to favor the various pines for their reforestation projects. Our deciduous trees (the ones that shed their leaves every year) continue to get pushed back, month by month, onto a smaller and smaller section of the landscape.
Maybe if more people tasted hickory nuts—or just spent a little time under these trees—the shaggy titans might come to be considered an asset (like fruit trees, for example) to a piece of property. Perhaps “hickory consciousness” can save some of these nut bearers from the ‘dozer and chain saw and increase this country’s appreciation for its other wild foods in the bargain.
Heck, we always knew that Euell Gibbons wasn’t really advertising those Grape Nuts, didn’t we?
More information on hickories can be found in “Food Without Farming.” And an especially good large paperback field guide, The Tree Identification Book by George W.D. Symonds (William Morrow, 1958), is available for $6.95 from good bookstores.
Happy foraging … and may the local market for hickory nuts in your area be as good as the one I’ve found down here in south central Texas!
How To Crack a Hickory Nut
First, off, there isn’t anything I can tell you that will make your hickory nutmeats pile up as rapidly and as easily as, say, walnuts. However, as with most tasks, there’s a right way and a wrong way to open these stubborn little cusses.
If you have a nutcracker, simply place the nut so that the two pointed ends contact the surfaces of the tool. Then apply firm but controlled pressure to crack the shell. Experts can open hickories so that the meats fall out whole most of the time, but you should content yourself (at first) with a few big chunks. Use a nutpick or a large pin to remove the rest.
When you crack a hickory nut with a hammer, make sure that the nut is placed point down on a hard surface. Your first good blow should crack the shell into accessible segments. You then can break each of the individual pieces open by directing your mallet to the outside of its husk while keeping the shell as nearly perpendicular to the floor (or whatever) as you can.
Be sure to throw those scraps of shell out for the birds and squirrels, too. They’ll be happy to pick out the tiny pieces of meat that you overlooked.