It's almost spring foraging time! But while I'm waiting for things to start poking out of the ground, I'm still working on the remnants of last year's fall forage—namely, black walnuts.
I've been wanting to blog about black walnuts for a good eight months—since last July. That was when I first located some walnut trees in a variety of secret locations. I used my powers of observation to note the very obvious presence of lime-sized, lime-colored balls high up in the trees. See?
They were not limes, however. This isn't Florida. They're walnuts!
I monitored those trees all summer long and into the fall to make sure the nuts didn't drop without me, which they did anyway. So then I had to fight the squirrels for my (un)fair share, scooping up any and all walnuts I could find on the ground as the sun set one September evening when I was supposed to be at a school PTO meeting. I arrived to said meeting late with scratches on my arms and twigs in my hair and a pocketbook full of odd-smelling green nutballs (I'm very popular in case you haven't already guessed).
The next day, I dumped the walnuts onto the ground and stomped on them with old shoes to remove the green husks. The oily insides of the hulls stained everything they touched dark brown, including the cement walkway and the rubber dishwashing gloves I wore.
I scrubbed the nuts in a bucket of water to remove the remaining stainy husk material, keeping the nuts that sunk to the bottom and tossing the ones that floated (floaters indicate insect damage or otherwise shriveled-up nut meats). I didn't compost the hulls, but rather threw them in the trash because they contain juglone, a compound that kills other plants. I don't need any additional help in that department, as you well know.
Finally, I cured the nuts by drying them on trays indoors. Every few months, I'd bring some outside and shell them with a hammer (eye protection recommended). It takes quite a few whacks, and the inner nut chambers are so labyrinthine and the nutmeats so small compared to your average walnut that you end up with just a handful of fragments. The yield was meager for the amount of time and work involved, but I was very, very excited to try them!
Here's the thing, though—I don't think I like black walnuts. When I got it in my mind to collect them, I just assumed I would like them because I love all nuts passionately (Husband to insert joke here). I had heard that black walnuts taste much, much stronger than your typical English walnuts, but I didn't think they'd taste THAT different. They're stinky! Like a super-sharp cheese aged in the musty basement of an industrial factory. Am I selling this for you? The best I can describe the flavor is eau de Home Depot. I like the way hardware stores smell, but I'm not sure I like that in a nut. They're pretty good in salads, I will say, in the same way that something powerful like blue cheese is good in a salad. However, I find them borderline blasphemous in fudge. My Virginia-bred grandmother has a recipe for chocolate pecan pie with a variation for black walnuts. I thought about attempting it, but that's a lot of man-hours for what I can only imagine would be a disgusting pie.
Still, I keep eating them. Maybe I DO like them? Or maybe I just like the idea of gathering my own wild nuts. If you've ever had black walnuts, or get the chance to try them, let me know what you think.