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Walnuts off the tree

On my way home there's a walnut tree growing by the street. Should I have any concern about eating the nuts? They are reaching the point where the rinds are splitting and the shells look clean and healthy which I believe means they are ready. I think it's fine to just eat them, but was just wondering if there are any issues. The tree is outside the back fence of a closed business.

I should know the answer to this question since I grew up with walnut and almond trees in the backyard, along with a Noah's Ark of fruit trees.

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  1. I don't know about SF but up here in TO, edible Walnut trees don't grow and what you see are inedible Black Walnuts. I would wan't to be sure that I could identify which is which before eating them.

    1. I hope that you are talking about the American black walnut, as the "English" or Persian walnut is the common nut meats that are found in grocery stores.
      This is what I found about the edible Black walnut.

      FAMILY: Walnut
      HEIGHT: 80 TO 100 ft.

      Black Walnut is a prized hardwood. The brown, fine-grained wood is used for gun stocks, furniture, and cabinets. Black Walnut is a tree of rich, open woods and roadsides and has often been used as a shade tree. The large, fragrant leaves have 15 or more leaflets, each finely toothed and ending in a llong point. They are smooth above, hairy below.
      The round nut grows in a thick green husk, from which the pioneers made a brown dye. It has a dark, irregular, hard shell that is hard to crack, but the sweet, edible, very distinctly foavored kernel makes the effort worthwhile.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Kelli2006

        It might be Black Walnut. The nut was in a thick green husk, but the shell was a light brown and didn't seem that hard. The nut looked exactly like what I see in SF Bay Area grocery stores. I know for a fact that edible walnut trees grew in the area in the 60's because we had one and we ate them. Whether this is the same kind of walnut, I don't know, but this tree is in the same part of town.

      2. We had black walnuts everywhere when I lived in the Midwest. The most distinctive feature of the nuts was that they dropped everywhere in fall and left big black stains. The tree is high in juglone, a chemical that is toxic to certain plants which can't grow near the roots. It was well known that tomatoes would die if you planted them close to black walnuts. I tried to pry one of the nuts open but gave up in disgust when my hands turned black so I never got any nuts from the many trees which regularly stained the driveway, walkway and house. The nuts are supposed to have great flavor and are very expensive, probably because harvesting them is such a pain.

        If you do a google search you'll find drawings and photos of the leaves which are distinctive.

        1. Hope you get some good info because I found a seedling that I found growing from the nutshell when we bought this house. I moved it to a more convenient place and this year — 9 years later — it has it's first green pods.

          I opened one and cleaned it away from the walnut shell we're familiar with. When I opened it there was a nut that looked very familiar but had a consistency that was like cartilage and not so much flavor of any kind. I'm guessing some kind of roasting is needed. If anyone knows how that's done and how to remove and clean up the walnut shells efficiently I'd be so grateful to learn about it.

          We're in Woodland HIlls in the San Fernando Valley area of greater Los Angeles. This valley was once almost completely orchard for things like citrus, fruits and nuts.

          1. I asked a walnut grower at the farmer's market and he said that what I have is probably an "English" walnut. The nuts off the tree look exactly like the ones he sells. Light brown shell that doesn't look too thick. I'm thinking about incorporating them into a sauce made from tomatoes in my garden.

            1. My house is surrounded by black walnut trees. You can't walk across the yard without practically breaking your ankle by stepping on the green tennis-ball-sized nuts which cover the lawn. Right now they're falling off the trees and it sounds like gunshot when it's windy. Here's what I know about them:

              The green husks of the black walnut will not split open - ever. They will shrivel and harden. So if the nuts you saw were splitting all on their own, they are not black walnuts, more likely they're Persian or English walnuts.

              If you decide that you simply must remove the nuts from the green hulls of the black walnut, do not, under any circumstances, do it with bare hands and a hammer. The first season we lived here I ended up with black-dyed dyed hands for about a month. Best to run over them with your car.

              Then, you have to let them dry for several weeks. The nut inside will harden and become more nut-like in texture. Unless you do so, you will have rubbery, tasteless nuts, just as rainey described. They can be stored for months in their shells.

              Then, if you are still undeterred and you want to actually use the nuts, you'll need to remove them from the shells by slamming the shells on the driveway with an axe, and using a toothpick or knitting needle to pry out the nuts. I have done it once.

              I would do this again if I were starving to death. No wonder the darn things are so expensive. It's an impossible thing to deal with.

              We do, however, have lots of very comical squirrels that nest in our walls and roof and chew on our internet cables etc. My dog enjoys watching them.

              And that's pretty much all you need to know about black walnuts. They are a lovely tree and I am happy to have them, but as a nut, they aren't nearly as useful as I had originally thought they would be.

              10 Replies
              1. re: Nyleve

                Then it looks like what I have are English walnuts. Many of the rinds were cracked open and they were very easy to peel them off. I'm thinking there is no reason not to eat them.

                My new undervalued neighborhood is yielding many pleasant surprises. Today I saw a foot and half tall hawk sitting on a telephone wire in the middle of town (Berkeley).

                  1. re: Nyleve

                    btw I enjoyed your black walnut story. At that size could they have doubled as small cannonballs?

                    1. re: chocolatetartguy

                      The walnut situation is getting worse by the minute, this being the season for them to drop. I do look fondly on them as I tiptoe around the fallen nuts so as to avoid bodily injury - if we were pioneers, we would be wealthy indeed. As it is, the squirrels have no competition from us and are getting fatter and fatter.

                      1. re: Nyleve

                        Survival of the fittest! Are you saying that if you stomp one (nut, not squirrel), it doesn't crack and fall apart?

                        1. re: chocolatetartguy

                          Hahahaha sorry for laughing. No it doesn't crack and fall apart. First you stomp on the green thing and you can sort of get that husk off - after prying it apart or (seriously) driving over it with your car. Next, you have to let them dry as described below so that the nut inside hardens. The shell itself is already ridiculously hard. I am not kidding - I use an axe. Whack it a few times on the driveway and the shell gets cracked and you can see the nuts inside. But you still can't quite get them out because they're all intertwined in this unbelievably hard shell. You manage to pick little bits of nut out but you can never get a whole half out at once. They are infuriating.

                  2. re: chocolatetartguy

                    Berkeley flatlands? Spent 13 yrs on Berkeley Way near Shattuck. What a great city for food. never noticed walnut trees though...

                  3. re: Nyleve

                    OK, I just have to say I *love* your black walnut story. :-) From everything my mother has told me (she grew up with several trees in her backyard) they are just as difficult to get to the nutmeat as you've described. The only thing Grandpa said they were good for was the wood...he cut several down, and made a baby walker and baby chair out of some of the wood...both of which I still have with my brother's and my initials burned into the bottoms of them.

                    1. re: LindaWhit

                      That's a real treasure you have! Neat.

                    2. re: Nyleve

                      Let them cure & boil them a long time for a non toxic dark brown hair dye. (Add a little vinegar).

                    3. Once you get the peels off the black walnuts, you have to let them dry for a few weeks or months if you want. After they are dry crack them in a vise. We then pick them out while watching tv. They are good in fudge and some baked goods but they are not at all like an English walnut and impart a strong flavor. We learned our lesson storing them in the garage--a determined squirrel ate through a wooden garage door to get at them. And if you pick them out to eat be very careful. It is easy to miss a shell and they are killers on the dental work.

                      1. Black walnut trees are hardier than English walnut trees, but English walnuts are more marketable. Hence, the trees you see in walnut orchards are Black walnut trunks with English grafts. If the tree was a 'market' tree, it'll be a grafted one. Every now and then, you see a tree with both Black AND English branches, with the Black walnut branching out from the trunk below the graft.

                        If the shells are clean and intact, go ahead and crack and eat them. (If they're Black walnuts, you'll have trouble cracking them.) Do NOT eat them if they have already cracked, because the mold that grows in split walnuts can be highly toxic.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: ricepad

                          Thanks for reassuring me. The shells look fine. I do recall seeing moldy ones as a child. My sister tells me that she even ate the walnuts off our tree green.

                        2. Black Walnut are delicious. They have an astringent, slightly medicinal flavor. I would never have the patience to harvest and shell them. It's true the hulls stain your hands forever.

                          Hagen Daz makes a pretty good black walnut ice cream. The container is labelled Black Walnut, but the photo shows English walnuts. Pretty funny.

                          Here's my favorite black walnut tree: http://flickr.com/photos/valann/44868...

                          1. I am writing with finger nails and cuticles still stained from smashing the Black Walnuts we picked up in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, two weeks ago. There is a motherload of trees all over that park!

                            This is a hilarious thread!
                            I can couch for the tomato killing power of the roots of the Black Walnut tree -- we lived adjacent to one when I was a kid. As the tree got bigger, we had to shift the garden.

                            Anyway, I have a bowl of them, husked and curing. Thanks for the tips!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: pitu

                              The thread has a sister thread that has descended down the board. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                            2. Once when I picked and hulled (thick outer rind) walnuts I found they really stain your hands, so maybe wear gloves.

                              1. Last year, we made our first batch of vin de noix (walnut-infused wine) from a recipe our friends from the South of France gave us. The recipe calls for green walnuts whose hulls have not yet hardened. Per our friend's son, it tasted almost similar to his Dad's brew. Our lovely friends gifted us with corking and bottling supplies this Christmas. So, more reason to make more this year.

                                We moved from Southern California and have not seen any walnut trees in the Peninsula. Where are the walnut trees in your neighborhood? We are willing to travel within anywhere in the SF Bay Area.

                                1. Last year, we made our first batch of vin de noix (walnut-infused wine) from a recipe our friends from the South of France gave us. The recipe calls for green walnuts whose hulls have not yet hardened. Per our friend's son, it tasted almost similar to his Dad's brew. Our lovely friends gifted us with corking and bottling supplies this Christmas. So, more reason to make more this year.

                                  We moved from Southern California and have not seen any walnut trees in the Peninsula. Where are the walnut trees in your neighborhood? We are willing to travel within anywhere in the SF Bay Area.

                                  1. Hey, I live in Berkeley and I'm interested in getting some walnuts from this tree if it's on a public street. Would you mind telling me the location?