Sunday, October 23, 2016

161023 Fall Foraging

I have often foraged for nuts in the fall. I live in an area with thousands of Black Walnut trees and a few, scattered, Hickory trees. Of the two, I much prefer the taste of Hickory Nuts but they are so small it is hard to gather enough to do much with. Our favorite is Hickory Nut cake. The nuts are notoriously difficult to get out of the shell and in the wild, only about half the nuts you pick up will be any good. It is a mad race to gather the small nuts before the squirrels grab them and hide them in their secret stashes. 

The tree is easy to identify in any season of the year by its "shag bark". The bark does not grow with the tree so as the tree ages and grows bigger, the old bark comes loose and eventually sheds. You can make a delicious syrup from the bark. There are Online instructions  for doing this and it is fairly easy. I have tasted it numerous times and think it is really good. I don't eat pancakes or waffles though so i don't really have a good use for it. I have added it to vanilla ice cream and that is quite a treat. If you have a chance to go to the Pennsylvania Farm Show, in Harrisburg, there is usually a vender there that sells the syrup. They will also come and collect bark from any trees that you might have on your property and they will pay you in syrup.

This is what the nuts clusters look like while still growing on the tree. The trees do nut produce a whole lot of these nuts though.
Inside the husk is a small nut. They have to dry for a couple weeks and I highly suggest that you store them in a COLD freezer until you crack them. Almost all these nuts have a small egg in them, which will grow into a nut maggot. Freezing the nut will kill them before they hatch.

Walnuts are much more common and much harder to crack. They typically grow in rich, bottom land soils (along small streams in shallow valleys). 
Black Walnuts are a little more difficult to identify until you know what they look like. They do have a very particular smell that you can pick up once you are familiar with them. They can become humongous trees if they are allowed to grow long enough. I have several on my property that are close to four feet in diameter at the base and probably 60-80 feet high.

As you can see, the leaves consist of multiple leaflets on a leaf stem. The nuts, and these trees are prolific producers of nuts, are in nut clusters.
The nut on the left is a Black Walnut and the one on the right is an "English Walnut", more properly called a Carpathian Walnut. The Black Walnut has less meat and more shell and has a much stronger flavor.

The husks of the Black Walnut were once used as a strong dye for coloring wool and cotton yarns. It is a lovely yellow-brown. Back in my trapping days, we commonly boiled our traps in walnut husks and wax to color and rust proof them. I tell you this because if you don't wear gloves, you will color your hands. Wear old clothes for the same reason. 

You should store your shelled Hickory nuts and Walnuts in the freezer until you use them. They are full of health oils and will go rancid quickly if you don't keep them cool and dry. I find they last the longest if you freeze them. 

Be very, VERY careful to pick out every bit of shell when you crack these nuts. Walnut shells are used in sand blasters and metal polishers, they are very hard. You can easily break a tooth if you bite down on a piece of shell in a cookie.

I have a short piece of railroad track that I use as an anvil for cracking Hickory and Walnuts, with a hammer. There are heavy duty nut crackers that you can buy through Homesteading stores. Do not even try to use you holiday nut cracker on these, you will break it.

I won't lie, it is a lot of work to process a bushel of nuts and a bushel basket of nuts will yield about a quart to a quart and a half of meats. But these wild nuts are very strong flavored and are chock full of healthy nutrients. It is something you can do with your family, sit around the table and crack and pick nuts in the evening. Do it until you are bored and then stop until another day.

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