Dr. Nut Cracker’s Guide to Harvesting, Cracking & Storing Black Walnuts

The black walnut (Juglans nigra) is one of my favorite nuts and it’s certainly not because they are easy to crack (trust me, it is advisable to obtain a serious black wall nut cracking machine). Black walnuts not only have a savory taste, but they are very healthy. They are full of omega fats, anti-oxidants and high in protein. But to enjoy these benefits of the black walnut, it is essential that you know how to harvest, crack, and store them.

Black walnuts ripen in the fall. When they reach maturity, the hulls soften and turn from green to a yellowish color. You will know for certain the that the nuts are ready for harvest when the hull softens so be sure to look for this key sign. Some folks like to harvest black walnuts by simply shaking the tree or picking them from the tree. Others like to pick up the black walnuts once they have fallen to the ground. My advice is to harvest your black walnuts as soon as they have fallen to the ground, as this will ensure the finest quality nuts.  Before you spend a great deal of time harvesting your black walnuts, be sure to sample the quality of a few nuts to make sure that your tree is producing high quality black walnuts this season.

Once you have harvested your black wall nuts, it is advisable to set them in a cool, dry place for one to three months.  Allow the yellow hulls to soften even more and turn black.  When the hulls have turned black and softened, it is time for hulling.  The first thing you should know about hulling black walnuts is that the hulls contain a strong yellowish colored juice that is capable of staining your clothing, cement, skin, or practically anything else it touches.  So be sure to wear rubber gloves and clothes that you do not mind discarding afterwards and pick an appropriate location for hulling.  Some folks use cement mixers to hull.  Others use other types of devices, including, corn shellers, automobile wheels, squirrel cages, stomping, or even a hammer. Once the hulling is complete, thoroughly wash the nuts, removing all debris and juice remnants. While washing, throw away any nuts that float in water, as those nut are of poor quality. Let the nuts dry for two to three weeks in a cool, dry room with good ventilation.

As much as I love my black walnuts, cracking them can be the most unpleasant aspect of dealing with them. Black walnuts have shells that are tough and thick. Hammers are commonly used to crack black walnuts. But the problem with hammers is that you will often wind up shattering the nut meat. Although shattering can be reduced by soaking the nuts in water for 1 or 2 hours before cracking, I still hate cracking with a hammer. Cracking with a hammer is a slow, unreliable process that is less than ideal when you have a large quantity of black walnuts. My tool of choice for home use is the Hunt’s Walnut Cracker.

Finally, note that it is very important that the nut meat is properly stored. The nut meats contain oils that will cause the meat to turn rancid when improperly stored. Freezing is the best way to store your shelled black walnuts, as they will keep indefinitely. Simply place the nut meet in a freezer bag, freeze, and enjoy at your leisure.

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