We have had the farm for a couple years now and I have toyed with the idea of harvesting some of the black walnuts that are bountiful on our land. This year I decided to give it a go. With bucket in hand, I hunted through the grasses and found more than I could ever want.
When gathering black walnuts, I wait until they fall to the ground, chose ones that have hulls that are yellowish green in color and give slightly under finger pressure. Most advise to not pick ones that have already turned black as the chemical in the hull can penetrate the hull and impart a bitter taste to the nut meat.
After you have gathered your nuts, I ended up with several buckets full, the next step is to hull them. This is a messy job and the juices from the hulls will dye anything and everything it comes in contact with, skin, clothes, wood, etc. Wear gloves, and clothes that you don’t mind being permanently stained. Hey, we all need “farm clothes”.
To remove the hulls, you can use a hammer to break the hulls apart from the shells. For me, this proved to be time consuming and even more messy because of the splatter factor. So, I ended up doing it a little differently. I took two scraps of T1-11 wood siding and laid one on a hard surface like a concrete driveway, placed several of the walnuts on the board and then placed the second board on top of the walnuts. Then I stood on top of the board and shifted my weight back and forth as if doing The Twist. I am sure I looked funny doing this little dance in the yard. When the top board is taken off, the hulls are cracked and can be easily removed. If a few are not cracked, just replace the board and dance some more on top of it. This method allowed me to hull many more walnuts at one time than using a hammer on each one individually. Do not compost the removed hulls. They contain a naturally occurring chemical, Juglone, that is toxic to some vegetables and landscape plants.
Once you have the hulls removed throw all your walnuts into a bucket of water and agitate. If any of the hulled walnuts float to the top, discard them. Floating to the top can indicate that there is not much nut meat inside the shell or that there has been damage to the nut.
Now that they are hulled and rinsed, spread them out in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place that is out of direct sunlight and let them cure. You can stack them but only a couple layers deep, otherwise mold can develop more readily. Most of what I have researched says to let the nuts cure for at least couple weeks. I have stored my nuts for quite a while before I broke them open.
To crack open the black walnuts shell, I have used a nut cracker. You have to be careful not to crush the shell and the nut meat inside the shell. Use just enough pressure to crack the shell and then try to pry apart. Usually, I have to break the shell in a couple different places to get all the nut meat out. You can also use a hammer to shell your nuts. Strike the shell on the end to crack it open. Discard any of the nut meats that are moldy.
Now, after all that you have a bowl of black walnuts for consumption. I bake the nut meats in the oven at 350˚ for about 5–10 minutes, just until them start to smell good. After they cool they can be placed in a jar or plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator or freezer. We have baked them in cookies and pies and sprinkled them on top of our homemade ice cream.
Also, the hulls can be boiled to make a very nice dark brown dye. I tried this and dyed a piece of silk for a scarf. I will make another post about that process.