Black Walnuts: Harvesting, Storing, and Cooking

Harvested walnuts

walnuts in shells
walnuts in shells
Hulled walnuts
Hulled walnuts

For years before my retirement, I sat in my downtown office in a high-rise building and dreamed of having a small plot of land in the country. While raising my daughters, this is what I planned. I read all the books I could find about sustainable living, living off the land, so to speak. I was always extremely impressed with the self-sufficiency of those who could live off the land. Helen and Scott Nearing, authors of the wonderful book The Good Life, were my heroes. “That is the way I'm going to live,” I would tell my daughters, “except I'm going to have a big screen TV”.

So I found my plot of land near where I grew up, near family and friends, and began building my house. Then I met my husband whose retirement plans did not include living in the country. He had sold all his garden equipment and moved to a condo in the city, near golf courses and sporting events. Ugh!! He was here, though, when I was building the house, and he's still here. And we do have a big screen TV. I believe he enjoys the country living now as much as I do.

We are by no means self-sufficient. When I would tell my sister, “I'm mainly going to be living off the land,” she would retort, “You're mainly going to be starving.” But we cut and split most of our firewood, raise and preserve some of our vegetables. And every fall, we harvest black walnuts, one of our most enjoyable activities.

The black walnut tree, native to eastern North America and introduced into Europe, is grown for its valuable wood. The nuts of this tree, with a hearty, distinctive flavor prized for gourmet treats, are often difficult to locate and difficult to harvest, but well worth the effort.


Harvest nuts in autumn as they begin to fall from the trees over a 4 to 6 week period. Pick up the nuts after they fall when the outer husk has turned from green to yellowish-green. If the nuts are allowed to remain on the ground too long after they fall, this husk begins to turn dark and will ruin the flavor of the nut.

Remove the outer husks of the nuts before storing. This should be done soon after harvesting to maintain the flavor. This soft outer husk can be removed with a hammer, rock, or as we do, by running over them with our riding mower. The object is to crush the soft, outer green husk and leave the inner shell intact. This is not difficult to do. Once these husks are crushed, remove the outer husk by hand by pulling it off. Be sure to wear heavy rubber gloves since the dye in the husks stains anything it comes in contact with. This potent, brownish-black natural dye, used by early settlers, is often used in handicrafts today.

Storing and Cracking

Once the outer husks have been removed, spread the black walnuts in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place to dry for at least two weeks before cracking. To crack the nuts once they have dried you will need a hard-shell nutcracker with a long handle for leverage. We purchased one of these years ago and it does a great job and has been very durable. Attach this nutcracker to a piece of wood. My husband also always surrounds the nutcracker on three sides with a cardboard box to catch the pieces that fly away. Soak the nuts in hot water for about 24 hours before cracking. It is best to crack the nuts outside or in a garage since they are a little messy to crack. Removing the nutmeats from the shells after they are cracked, though, can be done inside around a fire or while watching television. These nuts can be stored for short periods of time at room temperature if they are first baked at 215 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. They will keep for nine months if stored in a jar or plastic bag in the refrigerator, but they will keep for up to 2 years if stored in freezer containers in the freezer.

The Fruits of Your Labor

Now that you've gone to all of that work, you need some delicious recipes to make it all worthwhile. It is a good idea before you begin cooking with black walnuts to sort through the nutmeats again to be sure no small bits of shells have been inadvertently left in with the meats. I almost always find some.

Here are a few of my favorites treats:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup dark corn syrup
  • ½ cup cocoa
  • 2 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups black walnuts
  • unbaked pie shell
  • Beat eggs slightly then whisk in sugar, syrup, cocoa, butter, and vanilla until thoroughly mixed.
  • Pour black walnuts into pie shell ( It is a good idea at this time to sort through the nuts you shelled earlier to be sure you have not left any of the small sharp pieces of the shell. I always find some).
  • Pour the chocolate mixture over the nuts in the pie shell. Cover the edges of the pie shell with aluminum foil to prevent over browning and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove foil and cook for another 30 minutes.
  • Cool before cutting. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream. Yummy.

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 cup marshmallow crème
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 6 ounce package semi-sweet chocolate pieces
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup black walnuts
  • Grease an 8 inch square pan.
  • Mix together marshmallow crème, peanut butter, chocolate pieces, and vanilla in a bowl. Set aside.
  • Combine sugar and milk in a heavy saucepan and cook over medium hear, stirring occasionally, until mixture just barely reaches softball stage. Do not overcook as this mixture hardens fast when the rest of the ingredients are added.
  • Remove the sugar and milk mixture from the heat and quickly add marshmallow crème mixture until well blended. Fold in nuts and spread in prepared pan. Cool before cutting.

  • 3 eggs,slightly beaten
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup dark corn syrup
  • ½ cup evaporated milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup quick-cooking rolled oats
  • ½ cup black walnuts
  • 4 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • unbaked pie shell
  • Combine eggs, sugar, syrup, milk, butter, vanilla, and salt. Mix well. Stir in nuts and pour in unbaked pie shell. Cover edges of pie shell to prevent over browning and cook for 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove foil and cook for 25 minutes more or until top is golden brown. Cool before cutting.

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Comments 12 comments

AskAshlie3433 profile image

AskAshlie3433 6 years ago from WEST VIRGINIA

Very useful. Everything you need is here. Good job!

jo miller profile image

jo miller 6 years ago from Tennessee Author

Thanks, Ashlie, for reading and for your kind comment.

jwmurph profile image

jwmurph 6 years ago from Tennessee

As Jo says, there are two most distinctive qualities of black walnuts: the stain left when hulling when good quality rubber gloves are not used for handling them and the flavor, sometimes described as being akin to turpentine. Perhaps for some people, especially those who did not come into contact with black walnuts when they were young, black walnuts are an acquired taste. Perhaps some people never learn to like the taste, but for the rest of us, it is near heavenly, with no other taste quite like it.

tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa

A super read, thank you! I love nuts and so these recipes will be looked into!

Thanks for sharing.

Love and peace


jo miller profile image

jo miller 5 years ago from Tennessee Author

Thanks, Tony, for reading and sharing. We do enjoy our black walnuts, as much for the experience as the eating.

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

Black walnuts are a personal favorite. I just love their strong, musty flavor, although not everyone does. I like them in ice cream or as a topping, in sweet breads and on cakes, and especially in chocolate fudge.

I found it funny that you run over yours with the riding lawnmower to crack them. We set them in our driveway and run over them with the car. A bit redneck-y but it works wonders. They are so worth the effort. Voted up and awesome!

jo miller profile image

jo miller 3 years ago from Tennessee Author

Thank you for your affirmations. We still love harvesting walnuts.

It is true that not everyone likes these delicacies. When trying them for the first time, my son-in-law said they tasted like turpentine. But they're a favorite for my and husband and me.

melissa 16 months ago

Why can you buy canned walnuts and not can them yourself?

promisem profile image

promisem 4 months ago

I love black walnuts. But I wish I could find a less expensive source for them. They often cost $10 a pound or more in the stores in my area. That's more expensive than the best meats and seafood.

jo miller profile image

jo miller 4 months ago from Tennessee Author

This is exactly why we harvest our own. And considering the amount of work it takes, I completely understand why they are so expensive. I do see them reasonable priced at one of our Mennonite stores.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 5 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

I honestly don't know if we have black walnuts here in Washington. I doubt it seriously, and I doubt I've ever tasted one. I am now on a quest to find some at a specialty shop. I know Bev would love some..great stocking stuffer, right?

jo miller profile image

jo miller 5 weeks ago from Tennessee Author

Thank you for stopping by to read this. I plan to begin posting some new articles soon so that it will not be necessary to search back through my old articles. I'm trying to learn a few new things about online writing and improve some of my skills. But I appreciate your taking the time to comment.

You definitely need to try some black walnuts. You can order online, I think. They are an acquired taste. My children do not like them at all but my husband and I think they are a delicacy. Most people here do not fool with harvesting them, but we think it's fun to do.

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