If you stumble upon a black walnut lying on the ground, you may not know what it is. That’s because the distinctive-tasting nutmeat looks very different than the green, baseball-sized husk that surrounds it.
If you stumble upon a black walnut lying on the ground, you may not know what it is.
That’s because the distinctive-tasting nutmeat looks very different than the green, baseball-sized husk that surrounds it.
“If you ever go through the process of picking out the nut, you’ll never do it again,” said Shirley Shoemaker of Kilbourne, Ill.
In season, she sells shelled black walnuts at a farmers market at her stand, Shoemaker’s Kilbourne Melons.
Unlike English walnuts – the nut most people simply call “walnuts” – black walnuts are native to the United States and grow wild primarily in the central and eastern regions. Their taste is earthy and robust, not at all similar to the taste of an English walnut.
“Some don’t like it because it’s a strong taste, but I love them in cakes, cookies and tarts,” said Shoemaker.
She gathers them in autumn when they fall from trees, and she often cracks them open by driving over them with her car.
“The stain from the walnut hull turns your hands black, and it doesn’t come off for a long time. It’s time consuming and messy,” she said.
Inside the hull and a layer of black liquid, there’s a hard shell covering the meat. After washing the hulled nuts, she places them on an old railroad tie and uses a hammer to break into the shell. Then she retrieves the meat with a nutpick.
“You have to love black walnuts to do this,” Shoemaker warned.
Earn some extra cash
David Hammons also loves black walnuts.
His 66-year-old company, Hammons Products Co. in Stockton, Mo., is the world’s largest processor of shelled black walnuts.
The firm has 200 hulling stations throughout the Midwest. Amateur black walnut gatherers can trade their harvest at a hulling station for $13 per 100 pounds.
“It’s a way to make some extra income. We have people say they make their Christmas spending money that way,” said Hammons, the company’s vice president of marketing. The firm’s harvest season starts Oct. 1.
Machines at the hulling stations remove the husks, and the nuts are shipped to the Hammons factory in Missouri. There, they are stored and dried – either with air dryers in drying bins or by natural air in open-air barns. They remain dry until it’s time to crack the shell and retrieve the nutmeat.
Hammons said comparing a black walnut to an English walnut “is like comparing a truffle to a regular mushroom. It has a much earthier, more pronounced, tannin-like flavor.”
Not just for grandma’s recipes
Black walnuts are not snacking nuts.
Page 2 of 3 - “With English walnuts, you get texture but not much flavor. When you use black walnuts, it becomes a black walnut dish. It’s more than an ingredient,” he added.
Black walnuts generally are used in baked goods, but Hammons said chefs are starting to use them in savory dishes.
“There’s a chef in New Orleans who coats venison with black walnuts and cocoa nibs. There’s another who puts them in duck dumplings with apples,” he said.
Hammons said black walnuts – often seen in old recipes – are seeing a resurgence in popularity for several reasons.
“It’s a native growing tree, and people are interested in natural, sustainable foods. It has never-ending amounts of nutrition. And people are interested in intense, exotic flavors.”
One tablespoon of black walnut nutmeat has 48 calories, .5 grams of fat, 5 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein and no cholesterol or sodium.
Black walnuts are riding a wave of nostalgia.
“People tell me they remember black walnut recipes made by their grandmothers, their aunts, their mothers,” he said. “They want to make those recipes again.”
Recipes are from Hammons Products Co.
Starburst Black Walnut Salad
Fresh watercress or baby spinach
Dried cranberries (such as Craisins)
Freshly ground black pepper
On a bed of fresh watercress or baby spinach, arrange a starburst of endive (core removed). Place a freshly peeled orange slice in center and garnish liberally with black walnuts, blue cheese and dried cranberries. Drizzle with your favorite balsamic vinegar/oil dressing. Top with black pepper, to taste.
Makes 1 serving.
Red Velvet Cake with Black Walnuts
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup black walnuts, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ounces red food coloring
1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1 tablespoon vinegar
In a stand mixer with paddle attachment or with electric hand mixer, beat together shortening, sugar and eggs.
Sift together flour, salt and cocoa. Add sifted mixture and buttermilk, alternating a little at a time, to shortening mixture. Fold in the black walnuts, vanilla, food coloring and soda/vinegar mixture.
Pour batter into two 8-inch round cake pans lined with parchment paper or nonstick spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from pans. Cool. Top stacked cakes with either a vanilla buttercream or a cream cheese frosting. Press additional toasted black walnuts into the side or sprinkle on top.
Page 3 of 3 - Makes 10 to 12 servings.