A bit about us...

We are a modern family of three, living on less than two acres with a 3,000 square foot garden that meets our produce needs and allows us to share with friends and neighbors. Our laying flock of chickens seems to expand each year as we raise chicks each Spring to replace older hens. This blog is more of a journal, if you will, for us to chronicle and share our experiences in the yard, garden and kitchen. It is our hope that along the way a few folks might learn something, be entertained, or simply enjoy sharing in our stories and the lessons we learn on a daily basis. I named the blog after the times when I am the happiest, when I am elbow deep in earth.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Black Walnuts - Part 1

While on a trip to the west side of Michigan camping for Shane's birthday, we discovered a hickory tree that was dropping its bounty.  That bounty needed rescuing... I was sure of it! :-)

I gathered over several days as they fell in the wind and rain and we easily removed the green husks to reveal the tasty nuts encased in their shells.

While out and about, I also gathered some acorns for crafts, and the leaves from the respective trees for reference.

When we came home, I spent time learning about them, and discovered I would need a special nutcracker to make lighter work of removing the shells, once they were allowed to dry and ready to be cracked.  The same nutcracker was also designed for the very tough to crack black walnut, should I ever have a chance to get hold of some of them.

One evening I received a text from a dear friend of mine who asked if I would be interested in black walnuts. Her parents had a tree that was littering their driveway and would love it if I could help them clean up the walnut debris. Never one to pass over glean-able harvests, of course, I accepted! Having just received my newly ordered heavy duty nutcracker may have helped in that decision too!  We arrived to collect them as dusk approached, so we had to work quickly. Thankfully, her incredibly kind father had already gathered some piles together to make our work more efficient.  Just as it got almost too dark to see, we finished loading up 4! 18 gallon storage tubs with nuts in their green husks into the car and headed home.

I had to travel for work, so they sat outside under the camper awning for a few days until I returned. When I came home, I found that the squirrels had discovered my stash and had begun pilfering my loot. This was very motivating to get going on the task of husking them.

Black walnut nutmeats are well protected, first by their incredibly hard shell, and then by the outer husk. This starts out green and then begins to soften and blacken over time. Removing these outer coatings is a tough and messy job! I wore latex gloves beneath leather gloves to protect my hands from the stain. The husks soften and begin decomposing and create a tough, extremely staining, oily juice that leaves its mark on anyone or anything it touches. Two layers of gloves were essential for this task.

It was raining, so I set up in the kitchen for the task. I smashed each nut between my hands and then removed the husk. The bin on the left held the nuts in the husk, the middle bin held the removed husks and the box received the wet nuts in their grimy shells.

The next step is cleaning the nuts. After removing the husks, there is still a lot of yucky debris attached to the shells (which are rough and ridged, not smooth like English Walnuts you see at the grocery store). I washed and rinsed repeatedly, being careful to do so in an area that I did not care if it was stained from the water, or if the plant life died in the area (on the limestone parking area next to my garage where weeds grow rampant!). Black Walnuts contain a chemical called Juglone, which is lethal to many plants, and will even cause earthworms to surface to avoid being soaked in it.  Here is the wiki page if you'd like to learn more about the black walnut tree.

Once properly washed, I laid them out to dry, some on a tarp in the barn, some on cookie sheets in the house under my dehydrator (tented with aluminum foil to keep the heat and air in).  I had to get them dry as quickly as possible, to keep them from molding and losing all my hard work!

At the end of the day, I had husked about 100 pounds (weighed with the husks on) of nuts. Being only about half way to the end of my bounty, with extraordinarily sore hands, I decided there had to be an easier way to do the rest...

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