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Nov 18, 2009 10:54 PM

Black walnuts -- taking the husks off and then the shells

A friend wants some black walnuts -- I think to put in a BBQ smoker. Or maybe just to eat. I have to check again.

Anyway, I just visited my aunt and uncle in another state and they were throwing away big huge cans full of them. So I took a few big bagfuls home.

I set about to take the husks off tonight. And I did wear gloves because I understand they can stain your hands terribly. Web sites I looked at talked about removing the outer husk when the nuts are green. In these, the nuts are dark. The husks come off easily. A bit slimy underneath the husk but the shell of the nut seems fine.

Is there any problem husking them when the husk is black not still green. (I suspect not or my uncle never would have given them to me, but I'm wondering what you all think.)

Then, is there any good advice on taking them out of the shells? I understand that is a much bigger challenge. Any tips?

One thing I read said to let them "cure" for a couple weeks after husking so I was going to do that. And then set about to shelling.

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  1. I had three huge black walnut trees growing up. Two of them still stand in my parents' yard.

    Always wait until the husks are black before you remove them. I can't imagine the frustration of trying to remove green husks!! When they're green, the husks stick to the shell, but once they turn black, they loosen and are easy to remove.

    You should let the nuts cure for a couple of weeks to let the shells dry out. I understand that you can speed the curing in a very low oven or dehydrator, but I've never tried it -- we always just left the nuts in a single layer in cardboard pop flats or shallow boxes in the garage.

    Once the shells are very dry, you can use a nutcracker set (or better yet, a hammer) to get the nut meats out. Forget trying to get halves -- you'll be lucky to get quarters! Those nutcracker sets that have little dental-tool-looking thing are helpful to pull the nut meats out of the grooves inside the nuts.

    Black walnut processing is a great task for kids, because they get to beat on things with hammers and chase skittering walnut bits all over the garage. ;)

    Good luck!

    2 Replies
    1. re: LauraGrace

      Good luck! We're surrounded by black walnut trees and I've yet to get up the energy to harvest a single nut...My husband says his father used to have a special board made, with holes in various dimensions drilled into it. Apparently he hammered nuts into holes slightly too small, and then used that set up to help smash them open. I've heard of people laying them out on the driveway and driving over the nuts, to crack them, too..

      There's a reason black walnuts and pinon nuts are so expensive. ;-)

      1. re: Beckyleach

        Yep, when we had black walnut trees, we raked 'em into the driveway (it was a dirt driveway) and let the vehicles do the work for us. It took awhile when they were green. Then when they were dehusked we raked again which helped separate the nuts from the husk. Then we allowed them to dry for awhile because it a) made the shell easier to crack and b) allowed the nuts to shrink and cure a little thus giving up larger pieces of meat. We also used a tabletop levered nutcracker made for cracking black walnuts mostly but that was adaptable to other nuts. Made cracking the shells a lot easier with less work, frustration, and loss when doing large quantities.

    2. I am very energetic when it comes to food, and I certainly don't want to discourage you, but go into it aware that black walnuts are a total b**** to get out of the shells. The walnuts do taste good, I'll give them that, but I think you end up burning enough calories for a few slices of black walnut cake just extracting the buggers. Let us know how you do.

      1. Go online to "Hammons' Black Walnuts". Note that this isn't the same site as "Hammons' Nut Emporium" which is their online store. "Hammons' Black Walnuts" has a lot of useful information and advice, specifically where you click onto "Harvesting at Home". PS if you get sick and tired of Harvesting at Home, order some (shelled) nuts from the other hit. Your uncle threw those nuts away for a reason. When I was a child we had a black walnut tree in the back yard---there is no nut with a flavor like the American Black Walnut for baking and candy-making but, oh my goodness, what a lot of difficult and messy work it is to husk and shell them. The shells are so hard that they are used industrially, ground up, to sand-blast brick buildings. The nuts you already have need not go to waste---any community of squirrels will bless you for them.

        1. We had a huge black walnut tree when I was growing up. I hated the work involved: remove husks in-between green and black. Too green and the husk sticks and is full of sap; too dry and it can be stuck to the shell more than at the ideal in-between point. Let the nuts sit for a couple of weeks; then shell with a hammer: hit the seam correctly and you can get perfecf halves. Ignore that stuff about driving cars over the nuts.

          1. Our house is literally ringed by black walnut trees. When we first moved here almost 30 years ago I was ecstatic - with visions of an endless supply of fantastic black walnuts. A miraculous bounty of nature! What I soon learned was that a) removing the green husks from the nuts without wearing rubber gloves will stain your hands for weeks; b) cracking the nuts themselves cannot be done by ordinary kitchenary means; and c) once cracked, surgical skills are required to remove the actual nut meats from the shells. Long story short, every year I would de-husk and crack just a few to remind me of how much work this is. Don't get me wrong - they're delicious - but until the famine sets in or until I can't find anything else to do with my time and energy, I can't imagine bothering with them again. The squirrels around here are fat and numerous and as long as they stay the heck out of my attic, I'll leave them all the nuts they can eat.

            2 Replies
              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                We live in a small town, on a large piece of property surrounded by other houses. One time my husband got so fed up with the squirrels in the walls of his workshop that he took out his gun and started shooting at them. When we heard one of the shots ricochet off our neighbour's car, he quietly went back inside, disassembled the gun, hid the pieces in various spots and never put it together again. We have yet to find all the components. End of Squirrel Bourguignon story.