Using black walnuts

Tips for making the most of wild black walnuts.

I’ve had a couple calls from home owners wondering how to use the messy black walnuts that fall from their trees each fall. It can be a dirty process, but having “free” nuts to use in breads and cookies can certainly be worth it.

Black walnuts are best left to ripen on the tree and after the outside husk turns to a yellowish green. When ripe, an indentation will remain when pressed with your thumb. Black walnuts leave a dark stain so use gloves! Try to harvest while still on the tree if you can reach, otherwise the nuts can be harvested from the ground.

The husk needs to be removed before you store the nuts. This can be time consuming and very messy. Use gloves and wear old clothes. If the nuts are dry, a hammer can be used to release the nut. Be careful, as debris can fly onto surfaces and into your eyes. Safety glasses are recommended. If you want to hull many black walnuts, you can make a slurry to help. After the hulling is complete, the shells should be washed, and checked for insect infestation. One way to do this is to drop the shell in a bucket of water. If it floats, throw it out, as insects have more than likely damaged the nut.

Walnuts need to be cured to let the flavor develop. Place them in shallow trays in a cool, dry area, out of sunlight, for two weeks. Break one open to check for mold. If it breaks easily, it is ready to store. Storage should take place in a cool (under 60 degrees Fahrenheit) well-ventilated place in cloth bags. Humidity around 7 percent will keep the shells from cracking.

Michigan State University Extension recommends you shell the nuts when you’re ready to use them. Soak the walnuts in hot water for a day. Drain the water, replace with more hot water for two more hours. They should then be ready to shell. The black walnut can be difficult to release from the shell, but it can be done. The meat of the nuts should be refrigerated or frozen. If planning on keeping them at room temperature you must bake them first for 10 to 15 minutes at 215 F.

If you decide to harvest your wild black walnuts, they can be kept refrigerated for up to nine months if in a well-sealed jar or plastic bag. Frozen nuts are good for up to two years.

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