Aw nuts! (Black walnuts, that is!)

The projects continue around the old Jello Mansion. This year I decided to finally harvest some of those black walnuts that drop from the tree in our backyard. The squirrels help us out by plucking them off the branch and then hurling them at Fritz the Dog, and we end up with a large number of the round green goodies lying in the yard.  I’ve never attempted to do anything with them, but every year when I begin the cool-weather baking season and pick up a bag of walnuts in the store, I always kick myself. These things (black walnuts) are expensive!

So, a little research, a few questions to my father (who remembers it as a fall ritual to show up to school with blackened hands from harvesting walnuts), and I was ready to go. The blackened hands is the key bit of information here. This project is not difficult, but it is incredibly messy.

I gathered the handful of walnuts that had fallen to the ground, figuring that since I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into I should start with a small batch. From the research I had done, I expected the green outer husk to hard to get off. In reality, it’s pretty easy to smash (but it’s unbelievably messy!). I saw a reference online to a $345 walnut husker, and I also saw a suggestion to run them over with your car. I opted for the “smash them with a hammer” method:

My tools for breaking the green outer husk of the black walnut

My tools for breaking the green outer husk of the black walnut

The green husk splits pretty easily, but upon splitting, dark black juice comes flying out as well. I wore latex gloves on both hands, to try to avoid that fall ritual my father spoke of.

Underneath the green husk is a lot of juice!

Underneath the green husk is a lot of juice!

The green husk splits and the shelled walnut is covered in not only the dark black juice but also a soft membraney-type substance. If you think about the texture of a walnut shell, you can imagine that this stuff gets into the cracks and crevices of the shell.

Kind of hard to imagine tasty baked goods at this point, isn't it?

I used the garden hose to blast off as much of the now slimy coating, based on an article I read. Too bad the article didn’t mention how difficult it is to hold onto a walnut in one hand while blasting it with a hose with the other. After shooting a few nuts into the lawn, I figured out how to blast away and keep a grip.  Unfortunately, in doing so I seemed to have poked a hole in the thumb of my right glove, because when I removed the gloves, my thumb looked like I was a nicotine addict:

Does it stain? Yes it does ...

Once they walnuts were as clean as I could get them, I laid them out to dry — 2 to 3 weeks is what’s recommended. Because the squirrels would have made off with these in a second, I brought them into the kitchen where they’re sitting out of direct sunlight but in a dry spot. My little harvest:

The first harvest of black walnuts

While we wait for these to dry, more of these green-husked nuggets of gold are dropping from the tree. I’m already collecting more for the next round of smashing and blasting, with perhaps a better quality pair of  gloves.


  1. When I was a kid we used to use run over them with the car to get the husks off. Then set them out to dry. I remember the black fingers but don’t really remember getting the nut meat out after drying. I wonder how many squirrels were better fed as a result of our work??

  2. Amazing that squirrels can get into them considering that we humans often resort to running them over with automobiles! Looks like a great harvest.

  3. Distributorcap, I just recently learned (thanks to Unnamed Partner) that raw cashews will kill ya. Not that you have a cashew tree out back, but …

    Cait, the squirrels seem to have more free time than I do!

    Fed, with my luck, I feared getting flat tire from driving over them, so opted for the smash and grab method.

    Lisa and Donald, the cranberry nut bread may be especially tasty this year!

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