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Harvesting Hickory Nuts

Whether for food, supplemental income, or a bit of both, harvesting hickory nuts in the fall is a worthy and productive pastime.

| September/October 1978

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    Hickory leaves and immature nuts as they appear during the summer.
    WILLIAM JAMES
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    A close-up of a shagbark hickory trunk. You can see why it has that name.
    WILLIAM JAMES
  • 053-harvesting-hickory-nuts-00-big-tree2.jpg
    The shagbark hickory tree should be a productive source if and when you decide to go out harvesting hickory nuts. 
    PHOTO: WILLIAM JAMES
  • 053-harvesting-hickory-nuts-05-pouring2.jpg
    This solemn fellow is obviously a good forager.
    WILLIAM JAMES
  • 053-harvesting-hickory-nuts-04-collecting.jpg
    A good forager under a good tree can gather 20 pounds of hulled hickory nuts in an hour.
    WILLIAM JAMES
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    Unshelled wild nuts on sale in a natural foods store.
    WILLIAM JAMES
  • 053-harvesting-hickory-nuts-03-cartoon.jpg
    Diagram shows methods of cracking open hickory nuts.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

  • 053-harvesting-hickory-nuts-02-leaves-and-nuts.jpg
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  • 053-harvesting-hickory-nuts-00-big-tree2.jpg
  • 053-harvesting-hickory-nuts-05-pouring2.jpg
  • 053-harvesting-hickory-nuts-04-collecting.jpg
  • 053-harvesting-hickory-nuts-06-storage.jpg
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Ten years back, when I took my initial walk through our homestead's woods, I filled every available pocket in my jacket with wild nuts from the numerous tall hickory trees scattered throughout our ten acres. That was the first time I tasted the rich "walnut and rum" flavor of these excellent edibles ... and the first (but not the last) time I smacked a finger or two as I tried to crack the hard, pale nutshells.

My wife and I have lived in these woods ever since that first magic autumn a decade ago. And each fall we take advantage of our nut crop, just as we forage the dewberries and plums of other seasons.

Furthermore, as we've learned the locations of our trees—and become better at beating the squirrels to a fair portion of the crop—our nut baskets have grown in size from quarts to pecks to bushels. In short, we became so adept at harvesting hickory nuts it wasn't long before we were bringing in more than we could ever use. That's when we decided to try to sell our surplus.

Nuts to You ... For a Price!

At the time, we had already attempted to market foraged wild foods once before without any real success. But that had been pecans. They took forever to gather, didn't weigh much (our markets buy by the pound), and—because they are very susceptible to insect pests—didn't produce reliably large crops every year. We finally gave up on the pecans as a salable commodity ... though we always had—and still have—enough for personal use.



Hickory trees, on the other hand, aren't particularly vulnerable to much of anything. We've found that our hickories produce at least something every year, and each fall one or two can be counted on to yield a "bumper" crop.

Furthermore, hickory nuts are heavy. One person under a good tree can easily collect twenty pounds of the hulled but unshelled delectable edibles in an hour! Since we get 40¢ a pound when we sell our free-for-the-gathering nuts to local merchants (mostly "organic" food stores and an occasional supermarket), that means our "wages" for a pleasant day in the woods figure out to about eight dollars an hour. [EDITOR'S NOTE: We checked with several North Carolina health food stores and found that most were interested in buying foraged hickory nuts. None of these outlets could quote us a per-pound figure, however, simply because no one had ever brought any in to sell to them! We also found that some supermarkets will buy hickories as sort of "wild-pet food" to attract suburban squirrels!]  



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