The Walnut Saga, Week Ending 1/17/2021

Today I present the next chapter in the ongoing saga of the black walnuts (Juglans nigra). When we last saw our brave heroine, she was planning to process her stash of black walnuts after drying several weeks.

In fact, the walnuts were left to dry for two months (that’s “several weeks”, right?) before I got around to cracking them.

I still don’t have a “real” black walnut cracker. Rather than using the tamping iron like I had planned, I smashed the walnuts with a sledgehammer on a mini anvil, set in a cardboard box to catch the walnut shells and meat that went flying everywhere.

Crude but effective - smashing black walnuts with a sledgehammer and anvil
Crude but effective – smashing black walnuts with a sledgehammer and anvil

Quite a few nuts had bad meat in them, and those I just tossed.

Even once the nuts were cracked (AKA smashed to smithereens), there was still the tedious business of prying the nutmeat out of the nooks and crannies of the walnut shell interior. Every broken bit of sharp shell had at least a small morsel of nutmeat clinging to it. Often, my attempts to retrieve this precious walnut piece resulted in nut dust.

Black walnuts shells and meat all mixed together
Black walnuts shells and meat all mixed together

This work would go faster with pleasant company or a good movie on TV. My husband and I took turns with a nut pick sharpened especially for this job. It still took the better part of a day to smash, sort and pick all the nuts.

And then I realized there were bits of black walnut hull mixed in with the edible nut meats. Everywhere. It was a mess.

I tried the “floating nut” trick I had heard about last year. (Or was it two years ago now?) The black walnut pieces should float in a bowl of water because of the high fat content. Guess what! The icky black hull pieces float just as readily. So I resorted to the even more tedious task of manually picking out the good nut morsels from the not-good hull bits.

I should have measured by weight or volume how many black walnuts I started with, so I could provide accurate numbers on my final yield of edible bits. I ended up with over four cups (about 20 ounces) of nutmeats of various sizes – more than I expected, honestly! But I had over 24 cups of shells – six times the amount of edible pieces! They will be used for kindling, given where we are in the winter season.

Four cups of black walnut nutmeats and 24 cups of shells!
Four cups of black walnut nutmeats and 24 cups of shells!

The black walnut dust can be used as meal or ground into butter. The larger pieces could be used for baking, or toasted and used for topping on spicebush stewed apples. No pretty halves for fancy decorations or candies, unfortunately!

There must be a smarter/more automated way to do this, of course. I managed (with my husband’s generous help) to process over 3000 kcal worth of food, but how many calories did we expend in the process? At a minimum we need a real nutcracker, but there must be more to it than that. Hammon sells black walnuts in major chain stores ($10 for the same amount we just processed!), which would be impossible to profit from with the time and labor I’ve invested in my small batch. (Also, there may be no point in me developing recipes for black walnuts, given how many Hammon provides on their website!)

What will I do with them? No idea! Suggestions?

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