Black walnuts are one of the most flavorful nuts for snacking, baking, and cooking. These hard-shelled fruits have a sweet, delicate walnut flavor and are one of the most expensive nuts on the market. If you have a chance at harvesting black walnut trees, take it! You’ll enjoy the experience and gather a batch of delicious nuts that will store for up to two years. Picking black walnuts straight from the source is easier than you might think. Black walnuts that are ripe will almost literally fall in your lap. All you need is a tarp, some containers, and knowledge of when black walnuts fall.
When Do Black Walnuts Fall?
Juglans nigra, or black walnut, is a very hardy species of nut tree. The plant sets fruit in summer but the nutmeat isn’t ready until fall. This is the time of year you might want a hard hat if you are walking under a black walnut tree. Some of the hulled nuts can be nearly as big as a fist and pack quite a wallop when dropped from upper branches.
It is important to test a few fruits before picking black walnuts. This is because they tend to abort unfinished nuts and you may be picking up aborted nuts rather than nice, fat ripe fruits.
Autumn is the time for black walnut harvesting. In the tree’s native region of eastern North America, fruits drop from September until October. Dropped hulls usually mean ripe fruits, but you should check the appearance to ensure ripeness. The unripe fruit is green while the fully ripe fruit is yellow-ish verging on tan.
The hulls have a potent stain, so it is advised to wear gloves when harvesting the fruit. The stain will leave a permanent dark brown on fingers that aren’t protected. Don’t bother picking up fruits that are completely black. These are probably too far gone and the nutmeat may be rotten.
How Do You Harvest Black Walnuts?
Wear clothing that you don’t care about and gloves when harvesting black walnut trees. The stain will get on anything and won’t come out. The messiest time when black walnut harvesting is during hulling. Nuts need to be hulled before being washed, dried, and stored.
Removing the hulls can be difficult. Some people swear by driving over the hulls to crack them off, but this can send pieces of shell and nut flying everywhere. Commercial growers have a machine that separates the hull from the shell, but home operations usually jury rig a slurry with water and some pebbles to soften the hulls and then remove them with a hammer. Use heavy gloves and hit the ends of the nut to crack the hull off. Safety glasses are a good idea when hulling black walnuts.
Storing Black Walnuts
Black walnuts can be stored for up to two years. After hulling, wash the shells of the nuts. This is best done outdoors, as even the shells have staining properties. Sort through the nuts and discard any with signs of insect damage or rot.
Lay the nuts out in a single layer and allow them to dry for 2 to 3 weeks. This ensures that the nuts are cured and dried nuts will keep longer. Store unshelled nuts in cloth bags or mesh in a cool, dry location.
For longer preservation, shell the nuts and freeze the nutmeats in freezer bags or containers. The shells are harder than even the hulls, so a good step is to soak the shells in hot water for 24 hours before attempting shelling. This will soften the shells and make them easy to crack. Shelled, frozen nuts will keep for up to 2 years.