English walnuts are typically harvested late August through September and are a great addition to the frugal pantry (it's hard to argue with free food). So, grab some buckets, and unleash your inner squirrel on a tree near you.
What You'll Need
Gather these tools before you set out:
- A garden hose
- A nutcracker (for shelling the nuts)
The 7-Step Process
First, you'll need to find an area with walnut trees. The trees are native to North America and can be found in most of the United States. The trees can grow up to 100 feet tall. As the nuts begin to ripen in the fall, you'll find a pitted shell that encases a fibrous sack that begins to split as the nuts ripen. You can eat harvested walnuts, but they will taste different from walnuts from the grocery store. Follow these steps:
Check for Ripeness
Wait until nuts with split husks begin to appear on the ground in large numbers. Then, break open a few sample nuts and check for ripeness. English walnuts are ready for harvest when the tissue between the kernel and the shell turns brown.
Gather the Walnuts
You can harvest the nuts in one of two ways: either gather them off the ground where they fell or (if you're able) shake the tree to dislodge them. The second option will give you the edge on the squirrels and bugs, who will also be eager to claim the nuts. If you decide to go the tree-shaking route, first spread out an old blanket or sheet under the tree to make your job of nut collecting easier.
Remove the Husks
Your next step is to pull the husks off to reveal the shelled nuts. The husks should come off quite easily if you're collecting the nuts at the right time of year. Be sure to wear gloves for this step because the walnut tannins will stain your hands. If you find that the husks are black and difficult to remove, that's the work of walnut husks flies, which lay their eggs inside the husks. Don't panic. Husks flies don't harm the nuts, but they definitely make removing the husks quite difficult.
Rinsing the Walnuts
Rinse the shells off with a high-powered hose in order to remove all of the tannins. Don't rinse on a concrete driveway or another surface that you're worried about staining because the tannins will likely stain the ground as they are removed.
Inspect the Quality
Inspect the walnuts, checking for any cracked shells, and discard any that show signs of damage or pests.
Dry the Nuts
Lay the nuts out on a screen or rack and place them somewhere that is warm and dry and away from pests. Allow them to air dry for two weeks.
Test for Dryness
Remove several nuts from their shells, and try to break them in half. If they break cleanly, then the nuts are dry and ready to eat.
- For maximum freshness, always store walnuts in an air-tight container.
- English walnuts will keep in the shell for several months and black walnuts will keep for about a year if stored properly. Store them in a cool, dry spot to keep them from going rancid prematurely.
- Shelled nuts can be kept in the refrigerator for up to six months, and in the freezer for well over a year.
- If you invest in a good nutcracker, it'll save you a ton of work. A good one is the Texan York Nut Sheller. It works very well and is sturdy enough to withstand a lot of use.