Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Time to Run Around Like a Crazed Nut-Job!

As many of you already know, I really hate my English and black walnut trees.

They are such a mess most of the year, but especially in the fall when nuts, nut hulls and leaves start flying. As of October 1st, I'm almost to the post-nut/pre-leaf part of the mess.
Recent storm damage.
Beginning late September, the squirrels start running amok, harvesting nuts, chewing nut hulls off and dropping them everywhere, where they turn black and slimy in the lawn and flower beds.

I do actually pick up the nuts and debris when they fall. Partly because it's such a mess and partly because of the natural herbicide (juglone) contained in the nut hulls that the tree makes. Walnut trees don't like competition, so they try to poison their neighbors. Bad trees!

There is also the issue of every neighborhood squirrel, running to the four corners of the hood, burying walnuts everywhere. Every nut I pick up, is one less that will grow someplace. Inevitably, each spring brings a new crop of sprouted walnut trees thanks to the squirrels.

The black walnuts go in the compost bin because they stain everything and are an incredible pain in the ass to crack. They must be cured in a similar manner. I have trouble opening them with a hammer on the concrete. The meats are hard to dig out too, so it's just not worth the effort. The black walnut does not produce nuts as prolifically either, so the squirrels can have them as a treat, with my compliments.   

The English walnuts are another story - they are much more friendly and tasty. 

My, what lovely, large, smooth, nuts you have!
Many of the nuts, fall cleanly from their hulls and look like beautiful store bought ones. A "good" walnut feels heavy in your hand.

The wind and squirrels will sometimes send these whole nuts to the ground before they are ripe.
A few of the nuts that fall still have their hulls. If the hull is at least cracked, you can try to peel it off and save the nut. Use gloves when doing this or you will have stained nails and finger tips.

Also, don't dig your nails into the hard green hull, something about doing that gets under your nails and is painful. You don't want yellow/black nails anyway. It takes weeks for the stains to go away.

The hull can be hard to remove completely.

I still hold onto good nuts that have some hull I can't get off. The nuts have to cure for a month or two, so it will dry up. I never wait that long though for them to cure and start taste testing after 2-3 weeks.

Some of the hulls of fallen nuts will be black and rotted due to insect infestation - these will stain your hands (patio, concrete, outdoor furniture, etc.) the worst. The maggot of the Walnut Husk Fly likes to eat the hull, so sometimes when you peel it off there will be maggots between the skin and the nut shell wriggling around. Almost as gross as earwigs!
The maggots feeding can stain the shells which is not good for commercial sales appeal, but that doesn't matter at home. They don't get into the actual nut shell and damage the nut meat.

A bad nut!

The black nuts can be good or mostly bad. If they feel light, toss them. The inside will be shriveled and rotted. Water can get into the seam too and rot the inside when we have a lot of fall rain. These nuts open easily like a bad clam.

I store the collected nuts in a plastic basket in an area with a lot of air circulation. The nuts need to be completely dry while they cure or they will mold. Nobody likes a moldy nut!

Once dried, they are very easy to open, generally I can open 95% of them with just my hands, pressing firmly on the seam of the nut and get both nut meat halves out completely intact with a little prying.

I curse my trees when I am running around like a madman collecting nuts and picking up debris, but when I have my first walnut pie at Thanksgiving, I am happy for my efforts.

You know that old saying: When life gives you walnuts, make walnut pie!


  1. Walnut pie! That sounds divine.
    As kids, we used to spend a lot of time carefully peeling the skin off of green walnuts. The pure white meat underneath is a real treat.

  2. I have a fanciful idea that I would try to make my own Liqueur de noix. But when I went to France last fall, I bought a bottle. It was expensive and when I tried it, it was not at all what I thought it should taste like. Needless to say - I think I wasted my money.

  3. We were given a large sack of English Walnuts. The husks are mostly black. I cracked some open and the nut meat looks and tastes fine and doesn't have any mold odor. I had been worried it was mold until I saw your blog and read the possibility of a fly infestation. Do you think the nuts are ok if they smell and taste ok?

    1. I would bet your nuts are still okay to eat. The hull still intact will make them a little harder to open, but if they had fly maggot, the interior nut meat should still be fine. The maggots don't eat through the nut shell. You can always test a few. The interior meat should look like a store bought nutmeat. The outer "skin" of the nutmeat, could be a little spotty, but the meat will taste fine. Just be sure to keep them as dry as possible, so they don't rot or mold. If the hulls are at all wet, they will stain everything when you try to open them.

    2. Thank you. I appreciate your answering my question. I'll give them a try.