Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
All throughout the summer the black walnut trees that are scattered across our countryside either in the pastures or among shade trees in our yards are working at producing those delicious nuts! Usually late in the summer we start noticing just how full the trees are and predict what kind of nut season it might be. Considering our drought, this turned out to be a very good black walnut year!
Once the walnuts start falling, around mid September, it pays to be cautious when walking underneath a walnut tree, especially on a windy day! Limbs that hang over barns with tin roofs can cause a thunder like a shot-gun blast when a large walnut falls and hits that roof with a bang. These green orbs are usually the size of a baseball, or slightly smaller, and are a wonderful green color. After the walnuts fall to the ground, the green husk becomes bruised and starts rotting. It turns to a yellow then brown, and has a very distinct smell. This mushy rotting husk can stain just about anything with its brown tint. Just ask anyone who has joined in on a black walnut fight (yes, it can get messy), or has gathered them with their bare hands.
There is nothing fancy about black walnut picking. They simply need to be picked up off the ground and hauled to a hulling station where they are sent through a machine that cleans all the hull off the nut. Then the nuts are weighed and payment is made immediately based on their price per hundredweight. This year they started out at $12 per hundredweight, but are now down to $10.
Making extra money!
When I was a kid, my brothers and I worked hard to pick up truckloads of walnuts. We have a small grove of trees here on the farm and some years they were very prolific. It is always easier to pick up nuts that are plentiful. Sometimes we would pick them up and pour them into feed sacks, but other times we would just unload bucketfuls directly into the back of the pick-up and then shovel them out at the hulling station. It was and still is a great way to make extra money from just picking up what is already on the ground. I was excited for the extra money when I was young and I used it to buy something I had been saving for or to buy Christmas gifts. My sons are now picking up walnuts from the same trees towards that same goal of extra money. From just a few trees they have already gathered, with some help, enough walnuts to fill the back of our pick-up.
We were also able to borrow some walnut-rollers to aid them in the harvesting. They are nothing more than wire baskets with long handles that the walnuts pop into when you roll over them. When the basket is full it can be held over a bucket and the wire spread apart so that the nuts will dump out. I wonder why no one came up with this neat contraption when I was a kid?
The best part is taking them to the hulling station. Seeing the hopper fill with nuts to be taken into the huller and then see one conveyor take away the discarded hull and the other conveyor move the cleaned nuts to be weighed is fun. The boys worked hard to empty out the truck bed and were anxious to see what the check would be. They ended up with $38 to split; pretty good for just the expense of a little labor.
Black walnuts have a very rich distinct flavor. This special flavor makes them a gourmet ingredient to many cookies, candies and even ice cream. They have a very hard shell which makes it necessary to either use a black walnut cracker or a hammer on a brick or concrete to crack. It is also best to use a pick to get out the goodies, as there are small crevices that the nuts are stuck in. We enjoy eating lots of walnuts, and my boys spend a lot of time cracking walnuts at their Grandma's house using the homemade lever-action walnut cracker my dad made years ago.
This is a recipe, shared from a cousin, that I try to make every fall.
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1/3 cup all- purpose or whole wheat flour
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 egg
- 1 apple, finely chopped
- ½ cup black walnuts, finely chopped
Mix all ingredients except the apple and nuts for one minute. Stir in apple and nuts till combined. Pour into a greased 9” pie plate and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.
This is great warm and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Hammons Black Walnut recipes (buyer and distributor of black walnuts)
photo credit: Sherry Tucker; top, dumping out a walnut roller; middle using the walnut rollers; bottom, using shovels to empty the truck and fill the hopper at the walnut hullers.