Wild Black Walnuts Give a Variety of Options

If you want to know what brings the greed out in me, I’d have to say it is my new stash of shelled black walnuts.  Don’t ask—I’m not sharing!  If you’re new to black walnuts, you have no idea what a pain-stacking task it is to harvest, hull, cure, crack, and finally pick out the nut meat.  It’s a long and tedious process, but it is well worth the time and effort to me.  The nutmeats are hard to find and if you do, they are often expensive.  However, it’s the intense flavor that drives me to do it.

Black walnut is a generic term for the wild walnuts native to North America of which there are about five different varieties.  Also known as the American walnut, they are related to hickory nuts and butternuts.  Black walnuts differ greatly from white English walnuts which are gown in orchards and have a mild flavor.  Wild black walnuts have a strong, earthy flavor.  English walnuts are easily obtained and are larger, softer, and shell easily.  Black walnuts are harder to obtain and become an ‘operation’ to acquire.  And once you have them, store them in the freezer to keep these precious ‘gems’ indefinitely.

Missouri leads the nation in wild black walnut production.  However, black walnuts are found throughout the USA and I’m lucky to live among several black walnut trees in central Iowa.  I’ll spare you the details of harvesting, hulling, curing, cracking, and shelling or picking as you can read all about it online.  One important detail to keep in mind is that black walnut juice stains everything so you’ll want to be careful where and how you do your processing.  And lastly, getting the nutmeat from the intricate shell is tedious thereby earning each and every bit and piece.  Patience is a virtue.  I harvested the nuts in October and just recently cracked and picked enough nuts to make my favorite black walnut treat.

Low in saturated fat, high in unsaturated fat, and a good source of protein, black walnuts are a delicious, healthful food. In addition, the nutmeat contains vitamin A, iron, minerals and fiber and serves as a cholesterol- and sugar-free snack or ingredient.   One can boost the nutritional value of favorite foods by adding black walnuts to salads, yogurt, and oatmeal.   Toasted black walnuts make a tasty addition to trail mix for a healthy snack. Commonly used in baked products, black walnuts are being used by chefs in creative ways to take their fish and chicken dishes up a notch.  Black walnuts can be used in various ways or in any recipe that calls for nuts.  However, with a strong, rich, smoky flavor you’ll want to choose recipes that can feature the black walnut flavor or use it sparingly as it will overpower everything else. It is suggested that you combine one part black walnuts to three parts English walnuts in recipes where just a little flavor is wanted.

A good place to start looking for black walnut recipes is at https://black-walnuts.com/  My mother’s Black Walnut Refrigerator Cookies has long been a favorite and something I look forward to each year.  The recipe follows and YES, I do share cookies!

Black Walnut Refrigerator Cookies
1 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
3 ½ cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup black walnuts

Beat the butter and sugar until smooth.  Add the eggs, one at a time, allowing each egg to blend into the sugar/margarine mixture. Mix in the flour, soda, and salt until just incorporated.  If dough is a little too soft, add a little more flour. Fold in the chopped nuts; mixing just enough to evenly combine.  Scrape the dough onto a sheet of waxed paper and form into a log. Roll tightly in the waxed paper and refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours.  Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spray baking sheets with cooking spray.  Unwrap the dough, and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Place the cookies onto baking sheets spacing 1-inch apart. Bake in the preheated oven until the edges are golden, about 12 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 1 minute before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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2 thoughts on “Wild Black Walnuts Give a Variety of Options

  1. When I was a child the black walnuts would fall, Dad would run over them with the pick up. In those days we had no cement driveways. Then let them dry. Watch carefully for squirrels! Then put them in your freezer for a day or two. Makes SO much difference in cracking and hulling. try it once. Then when everything is finished make some delicious fudge and drop in some of those precious walnuts! Oh, so good! Would like to remind everyone to wear gloves when handling walnuts. They make an awful stain on your hands!

  2. I, too, have similar memories from my childhood days. Thank you for the tip on putting the walnuts in the freezer. The 2017 crop of walnuts is falling so I will put this tip to use.

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