Harvesting American Black Walnuts
By: Richard Tostenson in conjunction with the University of Minnesota Extension Service
August, September, and early October mark the time of the Black Walnut harvest on our farm. Many years ago, a gray squirrel buried a walnut for his winter feast and forgot it. Since then the east side of our shop has been graced with the beautiful arching bows of this hardwood tree. Not only does it provide shade from the hot summer sun. It also bears delicious fruit of walnut meats.
You must allow the nuts to ripen on the tree until the husk changes from solid green to yellowish green when ripe. If you press on the skin of the walnut with your thumb, the ripened nut will show an indentation.
Walnuts standing too long in their husks discolor to a dark brown, and will ruin the flavor of the nut.
Be sure to wear gloves when removing husks because the dyes from the husks will stain your hands. Remove husks by applying pressure to the nutís ends. Pound side to side with a hammer. Husks can also be softened in a bucket of water, then peeled.
After hulling, rinse the nuts, preferably outdoors since nuts stain. Next check the nuts for insect feeding by placing the nuts in water. Nuts that have been injured will float; the good nuts will sink to the bottom.
Do not compost your walnut husks, Juglone, a chemical produced by the walnut tree is toxic to many plants and vegetables.
The nuts must be cured. This prepares them for storage and allows flavor to develop.
Stack the clean hulled nuts two or three deep. Place them in a cool, dry, well ventilated area, out of direct sunlight for two weeks. When nuts are dry enough to store, kernels break with a snap. If cured improperly mold will form and your harvest will be ruined.
After curing, store unshelled nuts in a well ventilated area at 60 degrees or cooler. Cloth bags or wire baskets work well and will discourage mold.
To shell the nuts, soak them in hot water for 24 hours. Drain and soak again for 2 hours. Cover the nuts with moist towels until ready to crack the shells. Once the nuts are cracked, remove the nut meat from the shells and bake for 15 minutes in a 215 degree oven.
Nut meats stored at room temperature will stay fresh for 2 weeks, refrigerated 9 months and frozen for up to 2 years.