I recently learned why black walnuts are so expensive – harvesting them is a difficult and long process.
But first, you might be wondering what the difference is between a regular walnut and a black walnut. Black walnuts have a stronger taste – “It’s strong, slightly bitter flavor is highly valued by black walnut-devotees,” according to the Food Lover’s Companion.
Black walnuts are also a challenge to harvest because they are surrounded by a shell, which is difficult to crack, and an outer layer or husk.
The nuts are ready to harvest when the outer layer or husk softens: “If you leave a finger depression in the husk, the nut is mature,” according to Sandra Mason in the Homeowner’s Column at the University of Illinois. You’ll see in the picture below that they look like little tennis balls.
Now how do you get this outer shell off? That’s a good question. My uncle, who has a lot of land, dumped his walnuts on a dirt path, and then drove over them with his truck. In the picture below, you can see the remnants of the husks.
You might also try crushing them with your foot, but be careful. Once you get the outer layer off, the unshelled black walnuts will stain your hands – and it won’t come off. Black walnuts stains have to wear off over time.
Mason says to clean the unshelled black walnuts in a bucket of water. If you have nuts that float to the top, this means they don’t have any meat inside. Throw them away.
Then your walnuts need to be dried for several weeks. Spread them in thin layers out of the sun. Once they are dry, the “unshelled nuts can be stored in a cool dry place in mesh bags, burlap sacks or baskets for up to a year,” says Mason.
Mason also says you can use the “personal frustration therapy technique” – place 100 nuts in a heavy sack and strike them with a mallet until you’re left with fragments of shell and nut meat, and then you can separate the contents.
If you don’t use this technique, you’ll need to dig out the nut meat inside. Finally, you have reached the edible part of your black walnut. Let the nuts dry for a day or two, and then you can store them in a moisture-proof container.
Each walnut shell will yield two walnut halves, or one full nut.
See why black walnuts cost more? If this process is too intensive or, like most of us, you don’t have black walnut trees, Hammons Nut Emporium sells black walnuts unshelled ($15.00 for a 5-lb box; these walnuts have been dried and, after cracking, are ready to eat) or in a bag ready to use ($9.99 for a 16 oz bag).