Have access to a black walnut tree and interested in harvesting the nuts? Here's a step-by-step guide to what's involved, beginning with the collection of the nuts.
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Confirm Your Find
Black walnuts have a yellow-green husk that turns dark brown as it ages. They are about two inches in diameter and fall to the ground when they're ready to harvest, which is September to October for most of the United States.
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Gather Your Walnuts
Black walnuts contain tannins, a juicy substance that will stain your hands for days, so be sure to put on a pair of work gloves before you get started. Then simply gather all the black walnuts that are laying on the ground and place them in bags or baskets so you can haul them home for processing.
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Remove the Husks
Once you've gathered your black walnuts, it's time to remove the husks. Put on an old pair of shoes that you don't care about staining, and roll the first walnut under your foot. The husk should slip right off. Then, repeat the process with the remaining walnuts.
If you have a lot of walnuts to do, you can also lay them out on the driveway and drive your car over them several times to remove all of their husks at once. This works well but will stain your driveway, so just keep that in mind, if you decide to go this route.
Don't worry if you see any worms inside the husks. These are from husk flies, but they seldom affect the nuts. The nuts are very well protected by their tough shells.
Toss all of the husks in the trash when you're done. You may be tempted to throw them on your compost pile, but don't do it; the husks contain a chemical called juglone which inhibits plant growth. It's the reason you don't see many things growing around black walnut trees.
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Wash the Walnut Shells
With the husks removed, you're now left with just the walnuts in their shells and all the black gunk that's attached to them. Place the nuts in a bucket, and spray them off with a hose to remove as much of the gunk as you can.
Toss any nuts that float; it's a sign that the nutmeat didn't form properly. Then, lay the walnuts out to dry.
If you opt to leave them outside to dry, make sure they're protected from direct sunlight, rain, and squirrels. A screened-in porch or outbuilding is ideal.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
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Drying and Curing
Give the black walnuts two to three weeks to dry and cure before you store or crack them. This will ensure that you don't lose your harvest to mold.
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Once your walnuts have had plenty of time to cure, you can store them as-is in a cool, dark place for up to a year (though they may turn rancid before then).
Your best bet, however, is to shell the nuts and freeze them. If you do this, they'll last indefinitely.
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To crack your walnuts, place them on the ground pointed end up, and hit them with a hammer until they crack, or place them in a vise-grip and tighten it until they give. Then, carefully pick out the nut pieces. Walnut shells are very hard, so this process takes time.
It's very common for the nutmeat to get broken into pieces during the cracking process. If you really want whole nuts, soak the walnuts for a couple of hours before you crack them. The nuts will absorb a small amount of water, and be less likely to break. If you decide to go this route, allow the nuts to sit out at room temperature for a day before you freeze them, so they don't end up with freezer burn.
Once you're finished feel free to toast them or use them in other recipes.