Tough Nut to Crack

Quite honestly, I’ve always considered myself lucky to NOT have a black walnut tree on my property. Why? Not because a big shade tree is unwelcome. Not even because I prefer the vivid autumn colors of maples to the pale yellow of November’s remaining walnut leaves. Because—and this has been well-established by science—a brown pigment lodged in the tree’s twigs, leaves, bark, roots, and nut hulls called juglone is allelopathic. That is, it is toxic to other plants.

If you have a walnut tree, you know: nothing much will grow under it. You might expect grass to struggle anyway, but some of the things we like to establish under shade trees, such as impatiens or pachysandra or even roses, get poisoned by the juglone and die back.

Evidently a few plants are resistant:

  • hollyhocks
  • campanula
  • marigolds
  • pansies
  • Virginia creeper

Perhaps you know of others?

At any rate, my friend who has a tree just gave me a pile of walnuts, for possible use over Thanksgiving. In the leek-apple stuffing? In with the pecan tarts?  In a rice salad?

But first, how do I extract the delicious “meat”? These things are as hard as stones. My friend puts them in his driveway and runs his truck over them, but although that evidently works, it doesn’t sound too appetizing. I can imagine a lot of work after scooping or sweeping them up, removing all the shell bits not to mention driveway gravel, grit, and dirt. Walnut juice also stains things dark brown, including fingers—in fact, it was used in times past as a dye.

Notice there is no obvious seam to crack open--what to do?

So, what to do? Unlike some other nuts, I don’t see a clear seam on these, so breaking them open is not going to be easy. Shall I stomp on them with heavy boots, as Euell Gibbons suggested? Not sure either me or my boots are equal to that approach. Maybe I can whack them with a hammer or mallet over spread-out newspapers, which will absorb any dye and also help me better see and retrieve the tasty pieces? Or, perhaps better, I think I’ll wrap them in an old towel—I don’t want to get dinged with flying shards. If that doesn’t work, should I use a vice?

  1. Fran says

    When we used to gather them as kids, we used a heavy hammer, and then carefully picked out the little pieces of nut with an old-fashioned “nut pick” …. but there has to be a better way! Or maybe not? Our way is surely better than running over them with a truck in the driveway — not to mention possible damage to your tires. And yes, you should wear those thin surgical gloves you can buy at a drugstore, and do your work on heavy sheets of newsprint. Yeah, lots of work: but the deep earthy flavor of those nutmeats is worth the effort. What to do with them when you’ve got a cupful or two? Make black-walnut ice cream!

  2. Cynthia says

    Your friend probably puts them in the driveway just to remove the outer hulls, a common practice. My mom used a hammer and the stone step on an indoor doorway in our farmhouse to crack the inside shells in half, then in “quarters”. Putting them into the freezer for a few hours loosens the nuts enough to be picked with a nutpick. Get out a few at a time.

  3. melanie says

    as a kid we used a flat stone and a hammer and our great grandmas nut pick . there is a seam so scrape the nut til you find it ( mom made us use a butter knife)and hit the seam. we shared the pick. of course we got the job because there is no way you can do a bucket of nuts without your hands turning dark. Now I think you could use gloves.we sort of had an assemblly some times . my brother would wack Id pick and little brother would eat (smile)My moms blackwalnut cake is still famous she used 6 eggs I think it was a chiffon cake YUM.

  4. Sandi says

    Isn’t there a nut cracker you can use for the black walnuts ? Would love to know as we just started to gather them and someone told us there is one.

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