Harvesting, Cracking, and Cooking Black Walnuts

Black Walnuts | Aug 23, 2023
Harvesting and using black walnuts


If you’re blessed enough to have black walnut trees on your property, you’ll be getting ready to start the harvesting process soon. Black walnuts start falling in October and now is the time to start thinking about how you’ll collect your precious nuts. Black walnuts have a stronger, bolder flavor compared to the more common English walnuts you’ll find in stores. They are considered a delicacy among chefs because of the hard work it takes to crack them, but the taste is well worth it. They can be hard to source and pretty expensive for this reason. They have a harder shell, making cracking them quite the task. With a little planning and hard work, you can harvest, wash, cure, and crack your black walnuts to create delicious recipes to share this fall.

Once your black walnuts have fallen, it’s time for the harvest. Depending on the number of trees you’re gathering from will determine which Bag-A-Nut model you’ll need. There are six models to choose from starting with the Stab-A-Nut for just a few trees, all the way up to the 42” model for a large orchard, and everything in between. These are available in push or pull models so no matter what you need, you’re covered. Once you collect your nuts, it’s time to clean and remove the husks.

Green or black husk nuts can be harvested, but it will be easier if you wait until they’re black and softer. Black husks will be mushy because they have sat long enough to attract worms that eat the tough outer shell. This makes it easier for you and the nuts are still good to eat inside. To remove the husk, you can stomp on them or get creative. Fill a bucket with the black walnuts and water and using a hard tool, mix them up. The black goop will fall off, leaving a thick sludge that will need to be washed. Drain the water and repeat until it runs clear.

After this, cure your nuts. Make sure to drain out all water so they don’t get moldy and store them for about a week in a nut bag or on a screen. Just make sure to keep them out of reach of squirrels because they will steal your nuts. If cured properly, your black walnuts will last years so you can use them as needed.

Once the nuts are dry, you’re ready to start cracking. You’ll need a hard surface, metal snips, and a homemade nut pick. You want to make your own because regular nut picks are too thick and will crush the nut meat of black walnuts. Award-Winning Chef Alan James Beard shares how to easily make your own black walnut nut pick. “Take a dowel, preferably made from birch so it won’t split, and cut it into lengths a couple inches long. Now, pound a nail about halfway into the dowel. Next, pound the head of the nail flat using a hammer–this will be your pick.” He also shares an easier technique for cracking black walnuts. “Take each nut, and hold them by the points or seams, give a good crack to the flat portion of the nut just until you hear it crack–don’t smash them. Now rotate the nut and give them another crack on the seam (top or bottom). With enough practice you should now have a cracked nut, with 4 whole quarters.”

You can create delicious recipes using black walnuts such as black walnut pesto, salted candied black walnuts, and chocolate flourless black walnut torte. Check out these luxury black walnut recipes and more from Chef Alan James Beard: Black Walnut Recipes – Forager | Chef (foragerchef.com).

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