How to crack open black walnuts

How to crack open black walnuts

A bowl of whole shell-on walnuts can be a beautiful part of a holiday spread, but the question arises: how to get at the nutmeats nestled inside? A nutcracker may be the most efficient way to go about this task, but there is another less conventional way to do it without tools, and it’s a great party trick to boot.

How to crack open black walnuts

Place two walnuts in your palm. Find a ridge on one of the nuts, and line it up with an indentation on the other, as if putting together two puzzle pieces (this keeps them locked together). Curl fingertips inward using firm pressure, as if trying to make a fist, until the ridged nut cracks open the other.

How to crack open black walnuts

If you have smaller or not particularly strong hands (like I do), you might find that wrapping an extra hand around the first to add additional pressure helps.

How to crack open black walnuts

Admittedly, this trick is unlikely to replace a nutcracker if you need to crack open many walnuts at a time, but it works in a pinch and is sure to impress your friends.

Written by: Steve Nubie Off-Grid Foods 9 Comments Print This Article

How to crack open black walnuts

Cracking Black Walnuts Is No Easy Task

Fall is black walnut season in North America, and once you come across a tree you’ll find hundreds of the nuts on the ground. You also can knock them from a tree with a stick, but watch your head. They can hurt.

So, why are they called black walnuts? That’s a good question. If you’re ever seen a black walnut, then you know that the outer shell is a deep, light green. But if you handle one, you’ll quickly discover that they stain your hands black. Thus, the name.

Removing the Outer Shell

Wear gloves when harvesting black walnuts, and gently press the green, outer layer. If it’s soft and your finger can make a dent, then it’s at its peak of ripeness.

In order to get to the inner nut, you must remove the green, outer shell. I usually put the walnuts on either a flat rock or my driveway and gently roll them back and forth with my boots. Usually the outer green husk will break off, leaving you with the inner nut. This is when you particularly want to wear gloves, as the inner nut will stain your hands.

Other techniques for removing the outer shell include rolling them between two boards or putting them in a burlap sack and forcefully hitting the bag on a hard surface.

Rinsing the Nuts

Soak black walnuts in water to remove the black, outer bits of pulp. Fill a bucket with cold water and dump the shelled walnuts into the water. If any of them float, discard them. Floating means that the nut has either been compromised by insects or the inner nut meat has dried or is spoiled. Good black walnuts sink. Soak them overnight and in the morning, drain the water and refill. Continue to repeat this cycle of refreshing the water until the water remains clear.

You’ll notice after the first soaking that the water is quite black. Don’t let any of this water get on your clothing; dump the water out of the way, preferably on some black dirt. Black walnuts were used by our ancestors to dye clothing, and any of the black walnut stain that gets on your clothes likely will be permanent.

Drying the Nuts

Once you have sufficiently rinsed the black walnuts, put them on a foil lined baking sheet topped with paper towels and let them dry for two weeks in a dry space. Keep them out of the sun. I’ve found that the garage or basement is a good place to do this. I also found out very quickly that my wife wasn’t fond of staring at a bunch of black walnuts sitting on the kitchen counter for two weeks.

Cracking the Nut

How to crack open black walnuts

Cracking Black Walnuts

If you think you can use a regular nut cracker to crack a black walnut, think again. These nuts are incredibly tough and have a very hard, outer shell. Supposedly there’s a special black walnut nut-cracker, but for the life of me I haven’t been able to find one. Personally, I use a hammer. I’ll wrap a few nuts with a wash cloth or a piece of burlap and gently smash them with the hammer until they open. You can then pick out the nut-meat and discard the outer shells. The reason you want to wrap them in some kind of fabric when doing this hammer technique is to avoid the shrapnel and shattering that could strike your eyes.

Roasting Black Walnuts

Once you’ve cleaned out the nut meat, you can give your walnuts a light roast. I usually rinse them in cold water and dust them with a finely, ground sea salt. Next, I roast them for about 15 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, but taste them after 15 minutes to see if they need more time. I would strongly advise that you do not roast an unopened or un-cracked black walnut.

The moisture in the nut-meat could cause the black walnut to explode and the toughness of its outer shell could send shards flying in all directions. If you feel you must roast them intact, do it in a Dutch oven with a heavy iron lid. That way, any fragments from an exploding black walnut will be contained.

Storing Black Walnuts

If the walnuts have been shelled, the nut-meat is best stored in a container with a tight-fitting lid or a canning jar in the fridge. They should be good for up to a month. If the black walnuts are still in the shell, there’s good news. They’ll keep for up to two years if stored in a burlap bag or fine-meshed bag in a dry space like a back or front porch or an attic. Don’t put them in the root cellar, as the moisture can cause mold to grow on the outer shells. As always, inspect your black walnuts after they’ve been stored. If they show any signs of mold or have a mildew smell, discard them.

Menu Ideas

Black walnuts are great eaten right out of a bowl like regular walnuts. I like mine roasted and lightly salted and that’s why I toss them in salt before roasting. They’re also great in salads, pressed into cookie dough before baking or as a topping for a freshly baked loaf of bread. I’ve even put them on pizza.

If you come across black walnuts in your neck of the woods, give them a try. It’s a bit of work, but they’re free and they taste really, really great.

How do you crack black walnuts? Share your tips in the section below:

If you’ve been following along, you may recall that I recently spent some time hulling black walnuts.

These black walnuts have spent the winter curing in my cool, dry attic. Rumor has it that black walnuts are really hard to open. Rumor has it this would be why I’ve been none too eager to get cracking here.

How to crack open black walnuts

Come to find out that when you harbor black walnuts and don’t crack them, you’ll be haunted by backyard squirrel ghosts; the lost souls of squirrels who died from winter starvation because you deprived them of all the food they would have otherwise stored for hibernating.

How to crack open black walnuts

I can’t make this stuff up, people.

So with nothing better to do on a cold and snowy afternoon, some new “appliances” made their way up from my basement and into my kitchen today. It’s time to begin working through my pile’o nuts and hopefully rid myself of our squirrel haunting.

How to crack open black walnuts

These appliances would be a vise and a rubber mallet. Not the first time a rubber mallet has seen my kitchen I’m afraid to say. But the vise? Yeah. That’s a new one.

Turns out it’s not just a rumor that black walnuts are hard to crack. They really are hard to crack – I’m here to tell the tale. (The squirrel tale? The squirrel tail?)

I have a new found respect for hibernating squirrels.

(Did you hear that squirrel ghosts? I have a new found respect for hibernating squirrels.)

I got out the vise and mallet only after learning the hard way that you don’t want pound on them with a hammer on a wooden cutting board in an attempt to get them open.

How to crack open black walnuts

Instead, put your nuts in a vise (this is where that saying came from, FYI) and tighten down the little jaw thingy with the little arm thingy (I did not get an “A” in shop class, FYI).

How to crack open black walnuts

I’d read that if you can find the seam of the nut shell and line it up parallel with vise grips, it will split open nicely.

See the seam there?

How to crack open black walnuts

Yeah, me neither. Good luck with that.

Seam searching a bust, tighten that sucker down and get out your safety glasses (nerd alert!) OR take the much cooler, more stylish approach and cover your nut with a towel. One or the other – you don’t want to take a shard of flying black walnut shell to the eye while you’re being haunted by squirrel ghosts – trust me.

How to crack open black walnuts

Pound on that little arm thingy with your rubber mallet until you hear the sweet sound of nuts cracking.

How to crack open black walnuts

Commence digging with nut pick.

How to crack open black walnuts

Yes, this was as ugly as it looks. Yes, I’m going to keep going until I crack. I guess I figure that if I’m going to consume nuts (as I surely do) the nuts I harvested and stole from the clutches of the now-dead backyard squirrels should be among them.

I’m also thinking that if these walnuts are so hard to break into, there’s got to be a reason for it. I bet there’s something really good about these black walnuts – and I want in on it.

Maybe after months of consuming black walnuts my hair will become bushier and frizzier? My teeth sharper and pointier? My eyes smaller and beadier?

How to crack open black walnuts

Or maybe they’re hard to open because we’re not supposed to be eating them. Maybe my next post will be titled “How to Recover from Black Walnut Poisoning”. Maybe I better go order an autopsy of those squirrels that are now visiting me in the night.

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35 Responses

Finally! The post I’ve been waiting for! I hope they taste good, and I trust you to keep us updated. Oh: by the way? It’s “vise”, not “vice”. I leave it to you to come up with a witty sentence to illustrate the difference. =)

yup to “vise”. Don’t we love Mr.Dictionary? He rocks, I count on him and consult him regularly.

Thanks ladies, vice to vise. Proper spelling and grammar is my vice! (How’s that Sarah?)

A Blog of Birds & Nature with Kate St. John

How to crack open black walnuts

30 October 2014

There’s a bumper crop of black walnuts in my neighborhood this month, so many that they’ve stained the sidewalk black. They’re good to eat but how do you open them?

If you’re a human, you put on rubber gloves and safety glasses and hit the nuts with a hammer. The first whack cracks the greenish-yellow husk that stains everything black, hence the gloves.

The husk is the easy part. The shells are very, very hard to crack. Some people suggest using a vise instead of a hammer to open the nuts but no matter what you do pieces of shell go flying, hence the safety glasses.

If you’re a squirrel you don’t have tools but you do have teeth.

Donna Foyle watched a fox squirrel open a black walnut outside her window. The squirrels open peanuts in a flash but this black walnut took a long time.

The squirrel began by gnawing a hole on the side of the nut.
How to crack open black walnuts

“He quickly gnawed the shell, turning it, gnawing many times, turning it, gnawing almost in continuous quick motion, turning it again. He never deliberately stopped gnawing to spit out the shredded shell,” wrote Donna.

You can see he made the “sawdust” fly. No goggles for him!
How to crack open black walnuts

After 40 minutes he’d made real headway. The hole was a bowl from which he ate the nutmeat.
How to crack open black walnuts

Did he save the rest for later?

The squirrels in my neighborhood are eating fewer and saving more, burying them in everyone’s mulch.

(photos by Donna Foyle)

6 thoughts on “ How To Open A Black Walnut ”

Just wondering if anyone has seen any Junco’s in the area yet. I live in North Versailles and haven’t seen them yet. Usually have quite a flock of them. Perhaps the weather is still to warm.

Patsy, the juncos are just starting to arrive. I saw a few last week at Harrison Hills and one in Schenley. They haven’t arrived in big numbers yet.

I put out a little bit of leftover popcorn (unsalted, unspiced) for my backyard squirrels about once a week and they are quick to find this tasty snack. I always enjoy watching them eat it. The other day one squirrel was diligently burying the popcorn instead of eating it. I wanted to advise him/her that that was probably not a good idea. Popcorn is better for immediate snacking and probably does not bury well. Alas, I guess food is food and come fall food is to be buried.

We have avocado trees,and squirrels know that avocados don’t ripen on the tree, but only after they are removed. So they knock a few down at a time and come back for them later. They open them the same way, gnaw a hole and suck out the fruit. Fortunately, trees make a lot. And it keeps them away from the birdseed. (mostly)

I saw Juncos on Presque Isle last weekend – they are on their way 😉

Thanks Kate and Donna. Guess I’ll just have to be a little patient.

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How to crack open black walnuts

Are you a fan of black walnuts? The taste is decidedly different from English walnuts. Most people either love them or hate them. I think they’re an acquired taste.

This fall has been a great one for foraging. It seems that everything is in abundance, including the black walnuts which we forage along a public trail.

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Harvesting, Hulling, and Curing Black Walnuts

Gathering black walnuts is the easiest part of the process. When ready in the fall, the nuts will just fall to the ground. The husks will change from green to yellow when they are ripe. You can just pick them up from the ground, or use a Nut Wizard to gather them.

How to crack open black walnuts

Hulling (removing the husk) is also a relatively easy process, but be sure to wear gloves to protect your hands from being stained. Allow any husks that are still green to sit for a few days. Once yellow, or starting to turn black, they should peel right off. You want to hull when they are in the spongy stage; if the husks are allowed to dry out, the process will be much more difficult.

If you are hulling a large amount of nuts, you may want to consider using something like this corn sheller, which supposedly works well for husking black walnuts.

The hulls may be saved to use to make ink, or natural dye. I’ll include some links with instructions at the end of the post.

All parts of the black walnut contain juglone, a naturally occurring chemical which acts as an herbicide. The roots, especially, are high in juglone, and gardens should be never be planted near a black walnut tree. The juglone will break down during decomposition, but I prefer not to compost my husks or shells. I don’t want to take the chance that they have not thoroughly decomposed.

After hulling, the nuts must be cured. When you first remove the husks, the nut will be a bit wet and slimy. Some people go through the trouble of washing them and removing every last bit of husk. I don’t bother. What I do is lay the nuts in a single layer on some cardboard (or screen) in a dry, ventilated area for about 2 weeks. I turn the nuts every few days to keep them from getting moldy. They will cure nicely and will no longer be slimy.

How to crack open black walnuts

Cracking Black Walnuts

And now we get to the fun part of black walnuts – cracking them. Black walnuts are notoriously difficult to crack, but with either the right tools, or a simple trick or two, the job can be performed without too much trouble.

How you go about shelling your nuts will depend on how many nuts you have. If you have a lot, you may want to consider a heavy duty nut cracker like this one.

If, on the other hand, you’re only cracking a few pounds of nuts, there’s a less expensive solution. You’ll want to be working on a sturdy workbench, or perhaps your garage floor. Place an old, but clean towel or t-shirt on your work surface, and place a nut on top of it. If you want to be really particular, place the nut with the pointy side down. Cracked in this position makes removing the nut meat easier and you’ll have larger pieces.

Now fold the cloth over on top of the nut. This keeps the nut from flying all over the place. If you placed the nut pointed side down, you’ll have to arrange the cloth in a way that holds the nut in that position.

Using a hammer, give the nut a good crack. Don’t go smashing it to smithereens, though. The goal is to just crack the nut in 2 – 3 pieces. You can now use a nut pick to remove the meat.

Black walnuts will last up to a year in the refrigerator, or two years in the freezer.

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How to crack open black walnuts

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Recipes and Such

For digestibility, I recommend soaking and drying black walnuts before using in recipes. Here’s how: Place 1 c. black walnuts and 1 1/2 t. sea salt in a bowl and cover with room-temperature filtered water. Soak for 8 hours. Preheat oven to 150 degrees. Drain nuts and spread in one layer on a baking pan. Dry nuts in oven for 12 – 24 hours stirring occasionally, until very dry and crisp. A dehydrator may be used instead of an oven. This makes the nuts oh, so delicious.

How to crack open black walnuts

My favorite cookie ever, and my favorite way to use black walnuts is in Russian Tea Cookies. I use this recipe and just replace the English walnuts with black walnuts.

How to crack open black walnuts

And this Black Walnut Pie is to die for.

How to crack open black walnuts

Black Walnut Ice Cream from Janet at One Acre Farm.

How to crack open black walnutsDid you know that you can tap black walnut trees for syrup? You sure can! Teri at Homestead Honey shows up how.

And here are those posts I promised about using the black walnut hulls for ink and dye:

What ways have you used black walnuts? Do you love them or hate them?

Walnut also happens to be one of the most easily accessible nuts in our country. It is yummy and oh-so-nutritious. Walnuts are incredible for brain and heart health.

How to crack open black walnuts


We love nuts, we love them even more if they are easy to pick and eat. Most nuts often come with a hard shell covering. This is perhaps one of the reasons why they are so unpopular among kids and people who are not in a mood to put in so much effort to crack open the nut in the first place. One of the hardest nuts to crack is walnut. Walnut also happens to be one of the most easily accessible nuts in our country. It is yummy and oh-so-nutritious. Walnuts are incredible for brain and heart health. According to the book ‘Healing Foods’ by DK Publishing House, it is a rich source of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid. ALA helps lower ‘unhealthy’ (LDL) cholesterol levels that help keep arteries healthy and supple. The book further notes that walnuts also contain serotonin, a brain chemical that may help cheer you up and keep depressive thoughts at bay.

Walnut was brought to India by the nomadic tribes of Central Asia, but now it has become a mainstay in Indian dishes, especially our desserts, trail-mix and granola bars. It also makes for an exceptional salad ingredient. Now, why would you not want to add a nut so versatile and nutritious to your diet? If you do not have a nut-cracker, we have some easy hacks to shell walnuts that may be of help:

Hacks: How To Crack A Walnut | How To Open The Shell Of Walnut

1. The door hinge method

This is an adventurous method but mostly fool-proof. Find a door with a good hinge support. Place the walnut between the open door, hinge and the jamb. Now, slowly close the door so the hinge is pressing tightly against the nut. Once you hear the crack sound. Open the door and collect the walnut. With the help of your hand, separate the nutshell and the nut.

2. Hammer blow

Soak some walnuts in hot water for a few hours. This will soften the hard outer-shell. Now, place the walnut on a flat surface. Make sure the pointy end of the walnut is facing up. Take a hammer and carefully strike the walnut, the shell would crack open along the axis. Pull the shell apart. Make sure you do not hurt yourself.

3. With bare hands

Don’t have a door or hammer? No problem. Place two walnuts in your hand parallel to each other. Now clasp them tightly so that they press against each other. With this force, you would be able to crack one of the two walnuts.

Try these tricks and let us know how easy or difficult you found them.

(This content including advice provides generic information only. It is in no way a substitute for qualified medical opinion. Always consult a specialist or your own doctor for more information. NDTV does not claim responsibility for this information.)

About Sushmita Sengupta Sharing a strong penchant for food, Sushmita loves all things good, cheesy and greasy. Her other favourite pastime activities other than discussing food includes, reading, watching movies and binge-watching TV shows.

These nuts have a very tough outer shell, any tips on cracking them?

12 Answers 12

When I was a kid, we used to run over them with the car. Put a bunch in the driveway and drive over them so they got a single pass from a tire. That usually crushed a few beyond help, but just split the majority open nicely. They were still a lot of trouble to pick from the hulls, and ultimately not very nice to eat, IMO.

A nutcracker won’t work. I’ve used a hammer with success. Place the pointed end up on a hard surface and whack with the hammer. Practice will teach you how hard you need to swing.

We had a black walnut tree at one of the homes where I grew up. Hopefully, you’re not working from this state, or you’ll have to remove the husk as well, which will stain your hands for months. (wear gloves, and don’t take them off, until you’ve cleaned everything). We’d collect them up, and let them sit for a few weeks in the garage (warning : they stink when they’re in the husk; my mom tended to deal with the husks, and it was years ago, so I’m not sure what technique she used.

For cracking, I preferred using a bench-mounted screw-drive vice. I’ve also used a heavy-duty C-clamp in the early days, but you almost need three hands to deal with things. They do make special screw drive nutcrackers for macadamia nuts, which are easier to use (the screw comes through the middle) but they don’t tend to be large (or heavy) enough to deal with black walnuts. You might be able to get away with large vice-clamps. (size it to the nut, remove it, give it a few twists to constrict it, then clamp again on the nut)

There are also nut crackers specifically built/rated for black walnuts, but I’ve never used them. If you’re going to use a hammer, it might be worth investing in an engineers hammer, aka a hand sledge, which are heavier, and have a larger face.

My brother-in-law always has a giant bowl of assorted nuts on the table, he uses a grip wrench like the one below. It is easy to adjust the wrench for all sorts of nuts and it isn’t that difficult to use. Also, it doesn’t make the shell pieces fly when the nut is cracked if you do it correctly.

How to crack open black walnuts

As already mentioned, a bench vise works pretty well. If you want to go that route, be sure to cover the floor under the bench with plastic or similar. Otherwise residual juice from the husks will stain the floor dark brown.

I crack and retrieve the nutmeat from black walnuts and shagbark hickory nuts in the following way:

I place the nut, point up, on a piece of railroad rail. I hit it with a hammer just hard enough for the nut to break in half and sometimes into quarters. I then use a pair of sidecutters (smaller ones for the hickory nuts) to cut the pieces of nutmeat out of the shell.

Using this method may take a little longer, but you get larger pieces of nutmeat and fewer pieces of shell in with the nutmeat. Using a nutpick mashes and tares up the nutmeat. This is the best method I have found for me. Try it you may like it.

when I was young , I found that an old iron-iron upside down between your legs work quite well,

Growing up we had 5 huge black walnut trees. My grandmother used a hammer and an ice pick. I don’t recommend this method though. So far for me its pretty much a toss up between a vice out in the barn or driving over them all with a car. The car is much faster and generally only pulverizes a minute few.

How to crack open black walnuts

I found that a G-CLAMP is also a good tool for opening walnuts and macadamia nuts, the slow and steady addition of pressure makes a neat crack rather than the whoomp force of a blow from a hammer.

The best way to crack black walnuts to extract the nut in the largest pieces is to use a workbench vise and a short well 17mm or 19mm socket (5/8’s or 3/4″ S.A.E.) from a socket and ratchet tool set. A 12 point socket is better because it’s more “open” inside than a 6 point socket. The key is to use the socket to break the “crown” of the nut on either end. The best way to do this is to put one of the pointed ends of the nut in the open end of the socket where the bolt would go. Hold the walnut and the socket together with your hand and put it in your opened vice. Hold your hand around the nut and the socket while you crank the vice down on your nut socket combination so you can feel the socket break the crown of the nut. (Hopefully you’re not one of those who need someone to tell you not to crank the vice down so far that you destroy the nut and hurt your hand. This method is only good for people who haven’t left all their common sense behind in college.) With the crown of the nut broken, you can now pick out most of the big pieces of walnut. If a quadrant of the nut didn’t get cracked in the process, my preferred method is to use a a good pair of side cutters to get at it. Works better than any method I’ve tried.

A pair of diagonal wire cutters will quickly open a black walnut. Just cut along either end parallel to the seam. This easily splits the nut in half. Then, use the wirecutters to divide the shell edge about halfway down. This often splits it completely letting you pull the two halves apart and remove the nutmeat. If not, a few more clips will do the trick. Once youve done a few, it becomes pretty obvious where to cut the shell.

After you cut it in half, put your hand over the piece you’re cutting. This prevents fragments from scattering.

I. Black Walnut Overview

Black walnut(Juglans nigra), also known as Eastern black walnut or American walnut, is native to North America and grows throughout the United States and southern Canada. The hull of black walnut is a solid covering and does not split open. If not removed promptly, the hulls will begin to rot and the flavor of nutmeat will be affected. The shell of black walnut is extremely hard to crack and the nutmeat comes out in pieces. Processing black walnuts can be done industrially or at home and the nut can be cracked by black walnut cracker machine or with various handy tools.

How to crack open black walnuts

II. Learning about Black Walnut

2.1 Black Walnut Uses

Black walnut is one of the fine North American hardwoods. The green hulls are often dried and used to make tincture or powder. They are also used to make wood stain, ink, hair dye, clothing dye, etc. The ground shells are used as an abrasive for cleaning and cosmetics, as a sealing agent in oil wells and as filtration media to separate oil from water. Black walnut kernel is high in unsaturated fat and protein. The nuts have a bold flavor. It’s a baking nut, not a snacking nut. The nutmeat finds uses in baking, ice cream, candies, etc. Black walnuts are also pressed by oil expeller into black walnut oil which can be added in pastas, meats, vegetables, salads, salmon, etc.

2.2. Black Walnuts vs Regular Walnuts

Black walnuts differ from English walnuts(Juglans regia), the regular walnuts in the market. While black walnut is native to North America, English walnuts, also called Persian walnuts, have their origins in the Middle East. Black walnut has a stronger flavor and the shell is thicker and particularly tough to crack. Unlike English walnut meat which is easily removed in whole or half, black walnut comes out in pieces as the nuts are tightly wedged into the shells. English walnuts are cultivated in orchards, while black walnut grows wild in forests, pastures, and yards.

III. Harvesting and Processing Black Walnuts

How to crack open black walnuts

3.1 How to Process Black Walnuts Industrially

Hammons Products Company is the world’s leading commercial black walnut processor. In October and early November, the company sets up 200+ buying/hulling stations across the Midwestern and Eastern states. People collect black walnuts from the ground by hand or using a handy nut-gathering tool and bring them to the buying stations. Usually, about 65% of the company’s black walnuts comes from Missouri. Black walnuts are an alternate crop. The company purchased 22 million pounds of black walnuts in 2014, while in 2015 it was less than 10 million pounds.
At the hulling locations, the operator runs the nuts through a hulling machine to remove the green hull while the nuts deposited in mesh bags. Black walnuts are paid for the weight after hulling. In 2017, the company will pay a record $15 per 100 pounds of hulled black walnuts. The mesh bags are stacked and dried in open-air storage barns or large silo-like bins with specialized forced-air drying systems.
At the processing plant, the nuts are cracked by the black walnut cracker machine and then the kernels are separated from the shells by electronic sorting machines and the nut pieces are sorted by size. Inspectors visually examine the nuts for any remaining shells or bad nuts. After a final metal detector scan, the nutmeats are boxed for shipment. The average yield is 6 1/2 to 7 pounds of nutmeat per 100 pounds of in-shell nuts.

3.2 How to Process Black Walnuts at Home

Step 1: Removing the Hulls

Black walnuts will stain anything they touch. When processing, be sure to wear old clothes, shoes and gloves. Then use one of the following methods to dehull the walnut.
* Use a hammer or rock to smash the hulls open.
* Squish the nuts with your shoe and kick off the husk.
* Use a knife to cut a line around the husk and then twist both sides and pull them apart.
* Filling a burlap with green walnuts, secure the bag shut, and drive your car back and forth over the bag.

Step 2: Cleaning the Nuts

After husking, there is still much husk material stuck to the nuts. You can spray the nuts with a powerful hose to remove the debris. Or fill a bucket of black walnuts with water and rinse for at least 5 cycles.

Step 3: Drying the Nuts

Put black walnuts in a cool, dry place with good air circulation. Dry and cure for a couple of weeks.

How to crack open black walnuts

Step 4: How to Crack Black Walnuts

Black walnut is extremely hard to crack. To shell black walnut, use a heavy-duty nutcracker or a small hammer. Or place the walnut lengthwise in a vise grip and apply pressure until it cracks open. The nutmeat can be picked out using a nutpick or other sharp tool.

Step 5: Storing the Nutmeat

Shelled black walnut can be eaten fresh, roasted, or stored in the freezer for up to two years.

How to crack open black walnuts

It’s mighty hard to find a better-tasting nutmeat… or one that’s more difficult to get at!

It’s expensive to buy shelled black walnuts in a grocery store …but if you’ve ever tackled the difficult task of cracking these nuts, you can at least understand why they cost so much. Lately, though, thanks to a tip from my good friend and neighbor Dean Balcomb, I’ve become very proficient at producing large, “fancysize,” pieces of that wonderful gourmet treat in a minimum amount of time and without a whole lot of effort.


Many folks who become downright ecstatic upon discovering these lovely green fruits freshly fallen from a limb find that–upon setting about the task of husking all of those spheres of hidden de lights–their enthusiasm quickly fades. Husking is best accomplished promptly after gathering and should always be done with gloves on. Otherwise, uncovering just a few black walnuts bare-handed will leave brown stains that nothing except time can erase.

To do the job efficiently, use a hammer to smack the husk sharply, and then peel the nut out. (An oily black appearance beneath the husk usually means that the nut has been lying on the ground too long and has become a nursery for maggots.) Next, discard the husks and toss the nuts into a bucket of water, throwing away any that float. Then drain your treasures and spread them in a single layer on newspapers in a warm, dry, and airy environment. (I allow the nuts to cure for at least a month, checking periodically for dryness and making sure that any moldy ones are tossed away.)


Cracking the nuts is, of course, the most time-consuming step. However, by using a mounted vise I’ve managed to cut the chore to a minimum without sacrificing even a frag ment of the delicious nutmeats (which can, by the way, bring from $7.00 to $12.00 per pound!).

Just place a nut in the vise with its “seams” parallel to the vise jaws. Then tighten the vise until the shell splits open. If you need extra leverage, you can simply slip a length of pipe over the vise handle. Using a rubber mallet to tap the handle until it’s tight may also be helpful.

Once the nut has cracked, you can dislodge the meat by shaking or prying it loose. With this method, the nutmeats will usually come out in four neat quarters …nothing like the black walnut “dust” offered in supermarkets. Store the nuts in the refrigerator or freezer until you need them.

A word of caution: It’s very important that you wear safety glasses when breaking black walnuts open; the shells can crack with an explosive force that sends sharp fragments flying.

Now, don’t you think it’s about time to get cracking?

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on foraging nuts, turn the page!

In this article, you will learn how to shell black walnuts. I have also covered an easy hack that allows the process to be done easily and quickly.

First, let’s look at the tools you will need to shell black walnuts.

How to crack open black walnutsSource: Wikipedia Commons

Walnuts Tools to break loose

Black walnuts are super sturdy. It requires a specific amount of energy to break it open. But with the right tool, it’s just a few cracks away. A hammer comes in handy with its few worthy hits. Just put the walnut on a flat but soft surface to avoid smashing the nut inside. A good technique hit will break the shell apart.

A loose brick would work wonders, too, only if you know where exactly you’re supposed to hit. Moreover, you can use a sharp knife as well. It works well by just sticking the knife into the nut.

Twist the knife swiftly the shell will break into two halves. Other than the household tools, a nutcracker from the shop is also an option. Nutcrackers are available with different uses and price ranges.

For example, Reed’s rocket nutcracker. If you have loads of nuts, a heavy-duty cracker will help. Otherwise, some simple manual nutcrackers can be an option too.

Why Should You Break a Walnut Shell?

Break The shell of the walnut to get the nut. The answer is obvious because the shell does not break on its own. It requires some physical strength to crackle the nut out of its shell.

It is best to crack the shell as soon as it’s ready because it will be fresh to eat. After cracking the shell, it is easy to store them as they will take less space.

Cracked nuts are easy to eat because you won’t have to crack each nut before eating. The taste is the best right after you break it open. With time, walnut loses its taste and will become unpleasant to eat.

Easy hacks to make a nut-crack

One tip to crackle the walnut is to soak them in hot water to soften the shell. Use a hammer and give a blunt blow on the black walnut. You will see that the shell has quickly broken apart.

However, if you want to quicken breaking the walnut, a simple sharp knife can help. Identify the top opening of the shelf and dig the tip of the knife inside the shelf.

Twist it, and it will quickly break into two. Use metal snips to take the stuck pieces out of the walnut’s shell. The best recommendation will be to use a nutcracker if you intend to do any serious volume of nutcracking.

Walnut in One-piece

It’s not easy to crack the walnuts in a way that each half would come out whole. Because they usually come out in tiny bits and pieces. However, with some good practice, you can work it out. Follow these steps to get the vast majority of halves out whole.

Use a hammer and crack the walnut with three firm taps on the side.

Rotate the walnut with the pointy side up and again give three taps on the point

You’ll notice the crack. Carefully pull away from the shell and pull the walnut out.

But remember, you will not get the whole walnut on the first attempt. It’s just a matter of some good patience and practice. With time you’ll get there, don’t worry.

How much force does it take to break a walnut?

In general, you don’t need to be a superman to break the shell. However, according to a few kinds of research and study, an average person requires a force of 0.6 kN, which is approximately 135 lb, to break a walnut shell.

Hand nuts or hammer the nuts?

One can use their hands to crack walnuts, but it’s not recommended. Walnuts are super hard and require some serious strength.

Tools like a hammer or a nutcracker are better suited for this task than human hands. Even a simple brick can help create quick and efficient work. If you have the right tools with you, you don’t have to get your hands dirty and let the hammer do the action.

On the other side though using the hammer way is the quickest, but the hand method will give you greater control and can be done more gently so as not to damage the nutmeat inside.

Clean the walnuts and dry them.

Cleaning and drying black walnuts are one big job. It requires a tremendous effort to get that perfect delicious nut of your taste.

To clean the walnuts, make sure to wear your gloves first so that you don’t stain the hands. The black color they give off can cause yellow stains on the skin. The stain will take dew days to vanish. Wear heavy-duty gloves.

Begin the process by first Cutting the green hull of the dark walnut-like avocado. Then drop the hard-shelled nuts into the bucket of water. Hose them down and let them soak.

As soon as the water turns jet black, throw the water and refill the bucket with clean water. Repeat the process till the water looks lighter than before. Rub clean the walnuts and place them to dry.

The drying process requires the nuts to be kept in a well-ventilated area. Spread them on a clean surface anywhere where’s there’s good circulation. It’s better to stir them frequently to encourage circulation. Avoid putting them under direct sunlight.

Leave the walnuts in place for two weeks until the shells are completely dried out. Check the nuts by cracking one or two to ensure if they have dried or not.

Save the walnuts after shelling

When the walnuts are cracked, the oils in them will quickly become rancid. It is recommended to store them safely.

You should either use freshly shelled nuts right away or store them in the fridge or freezer for the best quality. Also, pack the nuts in an airtight container, or they will attract mice.

Storage period of black walnuts

The length of time you can store nuts on storage temperature. Storage life is shorter in the room than in the refrigerator or freezer. They retain quality for a year or more in the refrigerator and two or more when they are kept in a freezer.

Walnuts are hard to crack but delicious to taste. Enjoy them with the right tools and tips mentioned above. Good luck and adios from our side!!

On a recent trip to Allerton Park, I found myself dancing on walnuts. It seems to be a good year for nuts. You can interpret that statement any way you like. In horticulture, we often complain about walnuts for their ability to keep other plants from growing around them. However, walnuts do provide a nut crop that is highly prized for its rich, distinct, somewhat tangy flavor.

Black walnuts are from a common native tree unlike the English walnuts found in stores. The challenge is getting at the nutmeat or kernel. Black walnuts have a tough hull or husk and an extremely hard shell. But for those willing to put in the effort, the reward of gathering and processing this native delicacy is well worth the time. Tony Bratsch, horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension offers some tips for preparing walnuts.

Collecting Black Walnuts

Collection time for walnuts begins late September to early October. Harvest black walnuts as soon as the outer husk softens, but is still green. The best quality nutmeat is light in color and milder in flavor. If you can leave a finger depression in the husk, the nut is mature. Most people wait until nuts start to drop before gathering. However mature nuts can be shaken from tree limbs or dislodged with a long pole.

Proper gear is important in walnut handling. Wear gloves. The outside husks will stain just about anything. Walnuts were used in the past for dying cloth and baskets. You may even want to wear your favorite football or bike helmet. Style isn’t the goal here.

Removing walnut husks

There are many ways to remove green or partially decomposed husks.

  1. One way is to pile the nuts in a gravel driveway and drive over them a few times. The husk will slip off, but the shell will stay intact.
  2. Another method is to drill a 1-5/8 inch diameter hole in thick plywood. Use a heavy hammer to force the nut through, shearing off the husk. A 2×4 or heavy foot can be used to roll off the husk.

Processing Unshelled Nuts

  • Washing: Once the husk is off, wash the unshelled nuts in a bucket to remove excess juice and debris. Unfilled nuts will float and should be removed.
  • Drying and Curing: After washing, the unshelled nuts need to be dried and cured, if they aren’t going to be cracked right away. To dry, spread out freshly husked and washed nuts in thin layers in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight for several weeks.
  • Storing: Once dry, unshelled nuts can be stored in a cool, dry place in mesh bags, burlap sacks or baskets for up to a year.

Cracking Black Walnuts

Black walnuts have a hard shell. Hand-held nutcrackers seldom work. A hammer, a block of wood, a vise, or big rocks are better choices. Special pressure-type crackers efficiently crack individual nuts end to end.

Nutshells can be pre-conditioned before cracking. Start by soaking nuts in water for one to two hours; then drain and keep the nuts moist overnight in an airtight container. If shells still seem brittle, soak them in hot tap water just before cracking.

Another approach is the personal frustration therapy technique. Place about 100 nuts in a burlap or heavy-duty sack. Strike the sack with a mallet until the nuts are broken into a mass of shell and kernel fragments. Then hand separate.


Allow freshly extracted nutmeat to dry for a day or two before refrigerating in a moisture-proof container. Nutmeat can be frozen in jars or freezer bags and will keep two or more years.

You are sure to see some black walnuts as well as old barns, bridges, and schoolhouses on the Barn Tour in Monticello Saturday October 9 and Sunday October 10 (1999) for information 762-4731.

Originally published by Sandra Mason on 10/02/1999

The Best way to Crack a Black Walnut by Walnut Cracker

We had a black walnut tree at the backyard of our home where I grew up. We’d collect the nuts, and let them sit for a few weeks in the garage and my mother use to deal with the husk. And when they were out of the husk we would try many ways to take out the kernel of them so that we enjoy them. Also my mother would want them for making the pies, cakes and brownies which we all loved. But breaking the walnuts was a difficult task and we would spend a lot of time collecting only handful of kernels. I have used everything from hammers to specially built crackers for black walnut.

The black walnut is literally a tough nut to crack, at least without scattering fragments of kernel and shell. There are several nut crackers are in the market that are either too expensive or are too cumbersome to operate and yet they do not give the desired pieces. There have been many attempts to improve upon vises, hammers, high-heeled shoes and other tactics as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office have granted 257 nut-cracking patents since it awarded the first patent in 1790.

All these inventions have one thing in common they use compressive force to crack the tough Black Walnut shell. This compressive or crushing force shatters the nut shell and the kernels into small pieces.

In spite of so many patents and various devices, there are not many black walnut crackers in the market that are easy to operate and give the desired result. However, I have come across a device that just cuts the shell of the nut and gives out largekernels and for the first time in life, I have come across such a device that is so easy to use and gives the best shaped kernel. This new technology for black walnut is the most innovative and simple product that I have found for cracking black walnuts.This new device is called the Walnut Saw™ and it allows you to open the nut without compressive or crushing force being applied to the nut shell.

This Walnut Saw™is an amazing nut cracker that beautifully cuts the shell of the nut and gives large kernels (usually two halves. This is such compact device that it can be easily accommodated in your garage as well as it is most suitable for small commercial units which can afford even the minimum losses. This amazing innovation saves time as well as wastage. There is no crushing of kernels and you get complete pieces.

The Walnut SawTM simply cuts the shell with rotational motion and then you can crack open the nut to have the kernels out. It works so fast that you can collect almost a pound of nuts in less than an hour. You can simply buy this product to crack open the black walnuts in the most effective way.

The black walnut (Juglans nigra) is one of the most valuable timber trees in Iowa. It is also a valuable nut tree.

Walnuts ripen in the fall. As the fruit matures, the hull softens and changes from solid green to a yellowish color. The fruits are mature and ready for harvest as soon as the hull can be dented with your thumb. The best quality nuts are obtained by picking or shaking the mature nuts from the tree. Most individuals, however, gather the mature nuts as they drop to the ground. Dropping of mature nuts usually occurs in mid to late September. Before you spend a lot of time gathering nuts, it’s a good idea to crack a few to make sure the kernels are full. Nuts occasionally fail to fill or have small, shrunken kernels. Nut crops vary from year to year. A tree that produced bushels last year may have many or few nuts this year.

The nuts should be hulled immediately after they have been harvested. If the hulls are allowed to remain on for any length of time, the juice in the hull will discolor the nut meats and make them strong-tasting. The stain also discolors skin, clothing, concrete, and anything else that it touches. There are various ways and devices to hull walnuts — a cement mixer, corn sheller,automobile wheel, and squirrel cage are possibilities. Hulls can also be removed by stomping the nuts under foot or pounding with a hammer. After hulling, thoroughly wash the nuts to remove hull debris and juices. Small quantities can be washed in a large bucket or tub. At this time, the good nuts can be sorted from the bad ones. Unfilled nuts float while filled nuts sink. (Rubber gloves should be worn when hulling and cleaning to prevent staining of the hands.)

After washing and sorting, allow the nuts to dry for two or three weeks. An excellent way to dry nuts is on a wire screen. Spread the nuts in shallow layers (no more than three nuts deep)and dry them in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area. A shed or garage is usually a good place to dry walnuts.

The black walnut has one of the toughest and thickest shells to crack. While nuts can be cracked with various tools, the hammer and nutcracker are most commonly used. The hammer method involves placing the nut, pointed end up, on a hard surface and striking the point with the hammer until it weakens and splits into sections along its axis. Several nut-cracking tools are also available. When cracking nuts, shattering of the kernels is often a problem. Shattering can be reduced by soaking the nuts in water for 1 or 2 hours before cracking. The soaking process allows the kernels to absorb enough moisture to become somewhat flexible, resulting in larger kernel pieces. The kernels are extracted from the nutshell with a pick and a pair of pliers.

The oils in walnut kernels will turn rancid if nuts are stored improperly. After the kernels have been removed, place them in a plastic bag and store them in the freezer. The nutmeats will keep almost indefinitely when stored in the freezer. Kernels can be stored for short periods in the refrigerator.

Harvesting, hulling, cleaning, and cracking black walnuts requires considerable labor and patience. Those efforts, however, are rewarded when fudge, brownies, candies, and cakes are made from Iowa-grown black walnuts.

This article originally appeared in the September 16, 1994 issue, p. 142.

University of Missouri

Taking an environmentally sensitive approach to pest management

Missouri Environment & Garden

Michele Warmund
University of Missouri
Plant Science & Technology
(573) 882-9632
[email protected]

Michele Warmund
University of Missouri
(573) 882-9632
[email protected]

Published: October 1, 2009

Now is the time to take advantage of the wild black walnuts as trees are shedding their nuts rapidly. Since there are over 97 million wild black trees in Missouri, there is likely one near you! While commercial producers typically harvest with a mechanical tree shaker, homeowners can enjoy the nuts picked from the tree or from the ground after falling from the tree. The highest quality nuts are those still attached to the tree. To determine the right time to harvest nuts from the tree, a “dent test” can be used. This is performed by holding a walnut and depressing the husk with the thumb. When more than 75% of the black walnut husks dent, the walnut tree is ready for harvest. Research at the University of Missouri has shown that husk softening is associated with walnut maturity. An instrument, such as the durometer, which measures husk hardness, is another way to determine the harvest date for black walnuts. However, if you are too late to harvest the nuts from the tree, it is important to collect the nuts soon after they drop to enjoy them before squirrels find them.

Another reason to harvest them when the hulls are softening and green is that the kernels will be mature and flavorful, but not dark in color or taste rancid. With a two week delay in husk removal, kernels turn black and the less desirable flavors will have developed. Not only is it important to collect the walnuts quickly, but it is also important to remove the husks as soon as possible after harvest. For large scale production, mechanical hulling (husk removal) is used, but homeowners often use other creative methods such as running over the nuts with a vehicle or using grinders or other abrasive means to remove the husks.

Once husks are removed, walnuts are hung in bags and dried for about five weeks. Onion bags or other loose-woven bags that permit air movement are ideal. After the nuts have dried, either crack them immediately or store them at 32 to 40ºF. Before cracking, inspect the shells to make sure that there are no fissures or cracks in the shell. Walnuts with cracked shells are often infected with microorganisms and should be discarded. Bright yellow, blue streaked, or black kernels should not be consumed. For black walnuts with sound shells, heavy duty crackers are needed to break open the thick shells. An example of such a nut cracker can be found at: After cracking, walnuts for immediate use can be placed in an airtight container in the refrigerator or they can be stored in the freezer until next year’s harvest. To enjoy black walnuts year round, try some of the recipes at:

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How to crack open black walnuts

A hundred years ago, no self-respecting, East Coast farm would have been without at least one black walnut tree on the property. Black walnuts were popular shade trees, and their wood was highly valued for fine carpentry work. They cast a wide, dense shadow (great for keeping the house cool in summer) and the nuts were appreciated as food. Today, black walnuts aren’t planted very much, maybe because they get to be so big (50 – 100 feet tall), and we tend to have smaller yards. Or maybe because people see the nuts as more of a nuisance than a wild edible treat. But if you’re a forager who likes to get out and wander, take heart. It’s not unusual to find mature, majestic, specimens of black walnuts in yards and parks across the country, where wise people planted them a century ago.

The roots of the black walnut tree have an allelopathic effect on some plants, especially those in the tomato family and certain conifers, yet other plants grow perfectly well in the presence of black walnut trees. If you’re thinking of planting one, just keep it away from your vegetable garden and you should be fine. Black walnut trees grow best in full sun and deep, moist, well-drained soil.

The actual walnuts can be harvested while still on the tree, but it’s much easier to wait until they fall. The first time I saw black walnuts lying on the ground I had no idea what they were. Who knew that nuts grew inside those yellow-green husks that looked like tennis balls? Collect them when the husks are soft enough to easily dent with your thumb.

Black walnut husks are a traditional dye source and will stain your fingers a brownish yellow that lasts for weeks. (Ask me how I know.) It won’t hurt you, and some people see the color as a badge of honor. But if you’re a hand model, handle the nuts with gloves.

There are several ways to remove the husks, which cling to the nut shells tenaciously. Some people drive over them with their cars. (Since the shells inside the husks are quite hard, they don’t usually crack this way.) If your driveway is a light colored concrete, prepare for it to be dotted with black walnut husk stains.

I put on an old pair of boots and stomp on them to tear the husks, then peel off the husks with gloved hands, dropping the nuts into a large bucket of water. Next I scrub off any clinging remnants of the husks with a wire brush and I get rid of any floaters. (Floating nuts are hollow inside, never having developed good nutmeat.) You may find maggots inhabiting the husks but don’t worry, they can’t penetrate the nuts’ shells and won’t do any harm to the nuts themselves.

Black walnuts must be cured before they can be used, so spread them out in a single layer and let them air dry for two to four weeks. Do NOT leave the nuts unprotected outdoors while they dry, or you will come out one morning to check your nuts and find that the neighborhood squirrels (or raccoons, or possums, or bears, or whatever) have robbed you, leaving only a few hollow, undeveloped nuts behind. I know it was the squirrels.

The next step is shelling the nuts, and lest you think you’re home free, black walnut shells are considerably thicker than the shells of their English cousins. I used to place the nuts in a vise, slowly increasing pressure so the shell would break, leaving the nut as intact as possible. It’s a slow process, and not one that would be efficient for a commercial enterprise, but it does result in larger black walnut pieces. Now I have a special nut cracker that can handle the tough shells of black walnuts; most nut crackers aren’t up to the task.

The last step is to pick the nut meats out of the shells. If you’ve ever purchased black walnuts, you may have wondered why they don’t come in big pieces, like the lovely half pecans and walnuts you find at the grocery store. Well, once you’ve cracked and shelled your own black walnuts, you’ll know the answer to this question. Every step of working with black walnuts is a challenge!

The flavor of black walnuts is magnificent and unique. It’s heavy, dark, almost wine-like, and much stronger than that of English walnuts. You can combine them with milder nuts in nut breads and pies, or feature them in cookies, cakes, and ice cream.

Black walnuts have a high fat content, and after shelling they should be quickly eaten or frozen. Alternatively, you can leave them in their shells at room temperature until you’re ready to use them, and they’ll last a good long time.

Note for the lazy forager: If you’re surrounded by black walnut trees (lucky you) but not up to the task of husking and shelling and picking, consider making nocino. It’s a delicious, strong, dark, slightly bitter digestif, that’s as tasty poured over vanilla ice cream as it is sipped slowly from a glass.

How to crack open black walnuts

Black walnuts offer a signature taste of fall. They’re native to 15 or so states from Nebraska to Virginia and from Michigan to Mississippi. Mike Petrucelli for NPR hide caption

Black walnuts offer a signature taste of fall. They’re native to 15 or so states from Nebraska to Virginia and from Michigan to Mississippi.

Mike Petrucelli for NPR

My wife bit into a coffee cake at work the other day, expecting the typical office potluck flavor. She was surprised, she said, to taste a distinctive note reminding her of her childhood backyard in northwest Indiana.

It’s a taste that brings back all kinds of memories for native Midwesterners like her everywhere: black walnuts.

She was excited. I stared blankly. Black walnuts? People really eat those green balls that are underfoot all fall?

Of course they do, but a rum cake-eating Italian kid from southern Connecticut (that would be me) doesn’t know that. The trees don’t grow there.

A couple of days later, she came home with a bag of walnuts her supervisor had harvested from her yard and cracked one for me to try. I didn’t have to try many. These things announce themselves in a big way.

If you have never had a black walnut, you probably right now have the flavor of an English walnut, intensified slightly, on your mind’s palate.

Black walnuts are the un-walnut. They taste of the earth: musty, bittersweet and thick. They come storming into your taste buds. If they had a soundtrack, it’d be “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme).”

That’s their appeal. Black walnuts taste like something you worked hard to get — like you did a whole season of farming in just a couple of hours.

Black walnuts taste like something you worked hard to get — like you did a whole season of farming in just a couple of hours.

But they are divisive. A pastry chef I know gave them a try and couldn’t get past the “oily, unripe aftertaste.” I admit, they still have a raw taste even when toasted, which mellows them some.

People often assume that just because something is edible, hunter-gatherers in our prehistoric past automatically ate it no matter how hard it was to eat. Not true for black walnuts, which are native to 15 or so states from Nebraska to Virginia and from Michigan to Mississippi.

Mark Schurr, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, says that because black walnuts were much harder to process than, say, hickory nuts or acorns, they were often left alone. Schurr, who also studies prehistoric nutrition, adds that black walnuts were on the ground in the fall, when more easily harvested foods were abundant.

Black walnut meats are much smaller than other nuts and are difficult to pick out of the shell, which grows into the meat more than does the shell of English walnuts (which are actually from eastern Europe and Asia). That’s why you only see black walnuts chopped and never in more presentable-looking halves.

Also, black walnut meats are about two-thirds oil. The oil contains the antioxidant alpha-linolenic acid, which is one of the celebrated omega-3s we always hear about, according to Peter Pribis, assistant professor of nutrition at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich. Pribis is studying whether English walnuts, which are similarly endowed, can improve cognition. (If they can, then after all I’ve eaten for this story, I should be able to move objects with my mind.)

About The Author

Mike Petrucelli is the Food and Home editor at The South Bend Tribune and has eaten more black walnuts in the past month than most people eat in their entire lives. He lives in Plymouth, Ind., with his wife and two children, who silently (and not so silently) put up with whatever new food, recipe or technique he happens to be writing about.

One reason people let black walnuts lie is that they are literally a tough nut to crack. Aside from using a huller, people find other ways to break them: a rock (hurt hands; swear a lot); a hammer (drill hole in board; whack nut through hole; make black, inky mess); a car (sweet). One guy I work with put them in a cement mixer with rocks for an hour. It made a mess, but it worked well.

Once the nuts are hulled, they need to dry for a few weeks before cracking. A rule of thumb is to leave them until you can hear the nut rattle when you shake it.

That’s a lot of work, but people do it. And there’s a good reason for it. Ask Midwesterners. They’ll tell you that nobody made a better “(Name a state here) Black Walnut Cake” than their grandma.

That’s the beauty of a native food. Everyone claims it as his or her own. Officially, the eastern, or American, black walnut is the state tree nut of Missouri. That’s because most nuts that people pick up off the ground by the truck- and trailerful (seriously, a guy here showed up with a trailer full of black walnuts in buckets, barrels, bags and the gutted metal case of a Sears battery charger) are sent to Missouri’s Hammons Products Co. Hammons has been processing walnuts since the 1940s and handles about all the black walnuts you see in stores.

If you live in one of the states where black walnuts grow, you can probably get local nuts at a farmers market. Load up: They keep for a year in refrigeration and up to two years in the freezer. If you live where the trees don’t grow, it’s easy enough this time of year to find black walnuts under the Hammons label at supermarket chains including Kroger and Wal-Mart. At other times of year, black walnuts can be found under stores’ private labels or other national brand names. Either way, the nuts most likely came from Hammons.

I’m still working out whether I like black walnut. To a lot of people, it’s a signature taste of fall, and around here, people put the nuts in cakes, cookies and stuffing, or they buy black walnut ice cream from the Amish. But like them or not, if you use them, your dish will get noticed. Just be sure to warn the New Englanders first.

Introduction: Forage and Process Your Own Black Walnuts!

How to crack open black walnuts

How to crack open black walnuts

How to crack open black walnuts

Foraging is a fun and rewarding way to spend an afternoon. After a little hard work you have something edible and usable that you found and harvested yourself! I have been doing a lot of foraging lately and its amazing how much food is growing right outside the front door. A lot of these foods are not commonly used, so the trick is learning how to process them and use them. Foraging is not only fun, but it can be a valuable survival skill or off grid to learn.

Black walnut trees are native to the midwest and are THE american walnut tree. The walnuts in the holiday mixes we eat are the thinner shelled English walnuts. Black walnuts were used as a great source of protein by the native people of this country.

Black walnuts are considered a delicacy and are often used in high end restaurants in dishes with a hefty price. They sell for around 15-20 dollars a pound raw, but I’m going to teach you how to harvest your own!

Step 1: What You’ll Need.

A bucket


Old shoes

A sturdy stir stick

Step 2: Gather Your Walnuts

Black walnuts have a characteristic green, tennis ball looking, outer husk that covers the nut. This husk contains a chemical called Juglone that stinks. It also has the ability to prevent things from growing near the black walnut tree. It acts as natural weed control. The liquid in the green hull is sometimes used as a dye and will stain EVERYTHING! Wear protective gear and old clothing.

Black walnuts grow in urban backyards and in the wild. They are easiest to find by the flurry of squirrel activity in the area. The trees are fairly large and have black bark. They produce a crop of walnuts about every other year. Take advantage when they do!

Step 3: Remove the Green Husk

Many people make this step harder than it has to be, but the easiest way I have found is to simply don an old pair of shoes and step on the nut. With a twist of your foot, the husk will come right off. Do this with your whole harvest and put them in the bucket. Each nut takes about five seconds to de-hull.

Step 4: Clean Them Up!

Fill the bucket with just enough water to cover the walnuts. Then stir like crazy! The stirring will loosen up and rub off all of the remaining yellow parts from the outer husk. Dump the water, and do it again. It will take at least 5 rinses to get them clean. The more nuts you have the more you may need to stir, drain and repeat. This quantity shown was done after 5 drainings.

After the nuts are clean of all debris, rinse them off with a hose.

The squirrels will be watching.

Step 5: Set the Nuts Out to Dry

Put the nuts on a paper bag, or something that will let air through, and set them in a dry placewith good air flow. I set them above my floor vent so they would dry quicker! Drying will take a couple weeks. Break one open after about two weeks to see how they have progressed.

Step 6: Crack Em Open!

When the nuts are dry, its time to get the nut meats out of the shell. Black walnut shells are incredibly hard, and a standard nut cracker will not work. A splitting maul does the trick a little better. I set up pieces of wood to catch the pieces of shell from scattering everywhere when they break. It doesn’t take a hard hit, just tap the hammer on the nut until it cracks open.

Black walnuts have an intricate interior and there are several compartments where the nuts will be. Each nut may require another tap with the maul to free the nut meats.

If you won’t be using them right away, your black walnut meats can be preserved in the freezer. I have heard they can stay good for up to two years in the freezer.

If you have never tasted these nuts, the flavor is very rich, and almost sweetly smoky. It is a very unique taste and may require some getting used to. It has a very wild flavor!

Here is a link to some awesome recipes!

Here an instructable on how to make a black walnut pie! Yum!

How to crack open black walnuts

When I was growing up, we had an old black walnut tree next to our driveway that would drop walnuts causing me to trip over them while chasing my brother. I loathed this tree, especially when it was my turn to mow the grass, as I had to first rake the walnuts, wasting more of my precious time. Little did I know that we could have used these annoying nuts for delicious food. However, they’re a hard nut to crack.

If you’re determined enough to remove the husk (hop in your vehicle and drive over them a few times…yes, seriously) as well as the hard shell (forget the nutcracker and grab the hammer), you’re left with a nutritious nut with a richer, earthier flavor than the English walnut. Black walnuts have the highest protein content of any other tree nut with 15 grams protein per ½ cup. Plus, they’re an excellent source of omega-3 alpha linolenic acid, an essential amino acid with multiple health benefits that the body cannot make on its own.

Due to the oil content of the walnut, it’s best to store the nutmeat in a sealed, airtight container in the refrigerator for 9-12 months or in the freezer for up to two years. Use black walnuts in baked goods, such as cakes, breads or cookies, and in other sweets like ice cream. Black walnuts may be substituted for other nuts and used in salads, pasta, or stir-fries. If you don’t have a black walnut tree growing in your yard, or you’ve just given up the fight to get to the nutmeat, look for local hulled black walnuts at farmers markets, food co-ops or online.

Baked Black Walnut Banana Oatmeal

2 cups rolled oats

1/3 cup black walnuts, chopped

¼ cup packed light brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 cups nonfat milk

¾ cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt

2 Tablespoons canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large banana, halved and sliced

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray 8×8-inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine oats, black walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk milk, yogurt, oil and vanilla. Pour into dry ingredients and stir until well-combined. Gently stir in banana pieces. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish and bake 40-45 minutes until golden brown.

Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 290 calories, 11 grams fat, 230 milligrams sodium, 39 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 11 grams protein

Eileen Haraminac, Michigan State University Extension, Walnuts: One of Mother Nature’s healthy snacks

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jenna Smith is a Nutrition and Wellness Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties. Smith uses her experience as a registered dietitian nutritionist to deliver impactful information and cutting-edge programs to Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties and beyond.

This blog originally appeared in the Pantagraph on October 27, 2021

*posts may contain affiliate links. learn more

If you’ve ever tried to remove the thick green husk from a black walnut then you probably know what a messy and hard job it can be not to mention the nice green stain that gets left on you skin, that will not wash off no matter how hard you scrub. I’m going to share with you a secret on how to harvest black walnuts the easy Grandma way.

How to crack open black walnuts

How To Harvest Black Walnuts

Every fall when we went to visit my Grandma, she would have us pick up all the walnuts that had fallen to the ground around a big old walnut tree she had in her backyard. That thing was massive, but I was just a kid so maybe it wasn’t as big as I remember. Of course we didn’t want to do it, but with the promise of some of her amazing chocolate brownies after the chore was done, we quickly agreed to do it for her.

Grandma’s Big Secret

She would have us to pick them off the ground around the tree and put them in a bucket, then we would carry our buckets over to the gravel driveway and dump them right on the driveway. We all thought she was crazy. But turns out she was really smart.

You see after we dumped them all in the driveway, then the cars that drove over all those walnuts it would smash that hard outer shell, leaving behind the walnut. The walnut itself is hard enough that they are mostly undamaged by the tires.

My Grandma was really cleaver!

Don’t tell her I shared her secret!

How to crack open black walnuts

Grandma would collect the bare walnuts but she always left them outside until a couple heavy frosts. Storing them on a old table outside for them to dry out on after the hard shell was removed. I guess the heavy frost cures the nut meat inside the shell . After she thought the nuts were ready to eat. Then she gave us another job to do.

That Grandma always gave us some kind of chore to do when we came to visit.

We were giving the incredibly boring job of cracking and picking out the inside meat of the walnut. She made the most delicious things with those nuts. You can’t beat the flavor of fresh black walnuts in a chocolate brownie.

Now that’s How To Harvest Black Walnuts the easy Grandma Way!

Let’s Recap!

If you want to harvest black walnuts on your homestead. You need:

  1. A couple bored kids
  2. Buckets to carry the walnuts in and to dump on the driveway
  3. Gravel Driveway
  4. Your car to run over them over time
  5. Time
  6. And a couple heavy frosts
  7. Bored kids again to crack them open

Hope you enjoyed this little secret I shared, sometimes Grandma really knows best. After all she had to do with a lot less, but I feel she had a much fuller life that we live now a days.

How to crack open black walnuts

How to crack open black walnuts


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Harvesting Black Walnuts at My Farm

Here at my Bedford, New York farm, we’re still enjoying some of the last harvests of the season.

Over the past several weeks, my gardeners have picked many wonderful autumn crops, such as radishes, leeks, turnips, carrots, parsnips, and celeriac. This year, we also picked a few Osage oranges, Macular pomifera – those warty, wrinkly fruits commonly known as hedge apples, horse apples, or bodarks. And, we harvested a good amount of black walnuts from a large tree growing near my pond. Black walnuts are the wild walnuts native to North America and related to hickory nuts and butternuts. They have thicker, harder shells than the English walnuts traditionally found in stores, but they also have a richer, bolder, earthier flavor.

Said to help prevent heart disease and infections, more research is needed

How to crack open black walnuts

Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman’s World, and Natural Health.

How to crack open black walnuts

Emily Dashiell, ND, is a licensed naturopathic doctor who has worked in group and private practice settings over the last 15 years. She is in private practice in Santa Monica, California.

How to crack open black walnuts

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Black walnuts (Juglans nigra) are a type of tree nut said to offer a number of health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health measures. These nuts contain tannins, a class of substances with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They’re also high in unsaturated fat and protein. Though research does not support the use of black walnut in preventing or treating health conditions, black walnut extract has long been used in herbal medicine. Some recommend the supplement form to help treat certain illnesses, including infections.

Black walnuts are common in the United States, though not as common as English walnuts. Both may be found in grocery stores and in the bulk bins at natural-food stores.

What Is Black Walnut Used For?

Some believe black walnut is useful as a natural remedy for the following health problems:  

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Colon and prostate cancer
  • Intestinal worms  

In addition, some say that black walnut can protect against heart disease, cancer, and infections caused by ​an overgrowth of yeast (such as yeast infections, candida, and thrush).

When applied topically, black walnut is said to aid in ​the treatment of Inflammatory skin disorders, like canker sores, psoriasis, and warts.  

Black walnut does contain a host of beneficial components. In addition to those already mentioned, these include the essential fatty acids linoleic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, and linolenic acid (an omega-3), as well as minerals like magnesium and potassium.

But while a lot is known about the benefits of these components from a nutritional standpoint, there is not enough scientific evidence to support the use of black walnut or black walnut extract for these health benefits. (There is, however, evidence that increasing your nut consumption in general may boost heart health.)  

Additionally, there are different types of black walnuts, and extracts from each may provide a different level of benefit (if any) based on their concentration of bioactive agents.

One study investigating the antibacterial properties of black walnut found variation between different types (cultivars). Researchers examined 22 cultivars and found that one variety (Mystry) exhibited the strongest antibacterial activity.  

One small study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2011 compared the cardiovascular effects of black walnuts to those of English walnuts.   For the study, 36 people ate about 1.06 ounces of black walnuts or English walnuts every day for 30 days. Study results showed that participants who added English walnuts to their diets experienced greater improvements in several measures of cardiovascular health compared to participants who added black walnuts to their diets. However, other research suggests black walnuts may provide as much nutritional value, if not more, than the English walnut or other types of tree nuts.  

Lastly, researchers are still investigating how to effectively extract the active compounds from the nut.   Without proper extraction methods, supplements containing the bioactive compounds may not provide benefits at all.

Possible Side Effects

Aside from reactions stemming from a tree nut allergy, consuming a reasonable amount of black walnuts poses little concern. Eating nuts often or in excess, however, can lead to weight gain, as they are calorie-dense. Some may experience gas, diarrhea, or other gastrointestinal issues as well.

Due to a lack of research, little is known about the safety of long-term use of supplements containing black walnut extract.

It’s important to note that self-treating a chronic health condition with black walnut and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you’re considering the use of black walnut in the treatment of a condition, make sure to consult your health care provider.

How to crack open black walnuts

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

When shopping for walnuts, you’ll usually find them in bags and in bulk bins, typically in the produce section of a grocery or natural-foods store.

Keep walnuts in the shell for as long as possible to preserve freshness. Once cracked open, keep them in your refrigerator (if you plan to eat them within a few days) or freezer (if you want to store them for longer).

According to some sources, if your walnuts smell like paint thinner, they are rancid and should be thrown away.

Often sold in liquid extract form, dietary supplements containing black walnut are available for purchase online and in natural-foods stores, drugstores, and shops specializing in dietary supplements.

Store them in a cool, dry place in their original container, and do not use them past their expiration date.

Common Questions

I heard that black walnuts can be toxic. Is that true?
They may be toxic to animals. Black walnuts contain a toxin called juglone, and some research has shown that the substance may be dangerous to dogs and horses.  

Do black walnuts taste different than other walnuts?
Black walnuts are often described as more earthy, dark, and bold than the more common English variety. Black walnuts are usually grown wild and have a shell that is harder to crack.

Tips for making the most of wild black walnuts.

I’ve had a couple calls from home owners wondering how to use the messy black walnuts that fall from their trees each fall. It can be a dirty process, but having “free” nuts to use in breads and cookies can certainly be worth it.

Black walnuts are best left to ripen on the tree and after the outside husk turns to a yellowish green. When ripe, an indentation will remain when pressed with your thumb. Black walnuts leave a dark stain so use gloves! Try to harvest while still on the tree if you can reach, otherwise the nuts can be harvested from the ground.

The husk needs to be removed before you store the nuts. This can be time consuming and very messy. Use gloves and wear old clothes. If the nuts are dry, a hammer can be used to release the nut. Be careful, as debris can fly onto surfaces and into your eyes. Safety glasses are recommended. If you want to hull many black walnuts, you can make a slurry to help. After the hulling is complete, the shells should be washed, and checked for insect infestation. One way to do this is to drop the shell in a bucket of water. If it floats, throw it out, as insects have more than likely damaged the nut.

Walnuts need to be cured to let the flavor develop. Place them in shallow trays in a cool, dry area, out of sunlight, for two weeks. Break one open to check for mold. If it breaks easily, it is ready to store. Storage should take place in a cool (under 60 degrees Fahrenheit) well-ventilated place in cloth bags. Humidity around 7 percent will keep the shells from cracking.

Michigan State University Extension recommends you shell the nuts when you’re ready to use them. Soak the walnuts in hot water for a day. Drain the water, replace with more hot water for two more hours. They should then be ready to shell. The black walnut can be difficult to release from the shell, but it can be done. The meat of the nuts should be refrigerated or frozen. If planning on keeping them at room temperature you must bake them first for 10 to 15 minutes at 215 F.

If you decide to harvest your wild black walnuts, they can be kept refrigerated for up to nine months if in a well-sealed jar or plastic bag. Frozen nuts are good for up to two years.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit To contact an expert in your area, visit, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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How to crack open black walnuts

MANHATTAN, Kan. — Many homeowners who have a black walnut tree in their yard look forward to the nuts it drops in the fall.

Kansas State University horticulture expert Ward Upham says knowing what to look for is key to successfully harvesting and curing black walnuts.

“Black walnuts are ready to be harvested when the hull can be dented with your thumb,” Upham said. “You can also wait until the nuts start falling from the tree.”

Soon after harvesting, the hull – the hard outer coating of the nut – needs to be removed. If not removed in a timely manner, the stain from the hull can leech inside and discolor the meat. This staining will also result in an undesirable off-flavor.

Before hulling the nuts, ensure you wear gloves, Upham said. Black walnuts contain a stubborn dye that will stain concrete, hands, clothing, or anything it touches. Once it stains, the dye is almost impossible to remove.

With gloves on, there are several methods you can employ to hull the nuts. The nuts can be run through a corn sheller or pounded through holes in a board.

“The hole must be big enough for the nut, but smaller than the hull,” Upham said.

He recommends a simpler method: running over the nuts with a lawn tractor.

“This will break the hull but not crack the nut,” he said.

Hulled nuts can then be spread on the lawn or wire mesh and sprayed with water, or the nuts can be placed in a tub of water.

“If you place them in a tub, the good nuts should sink,” Upham said. “Those that float are probably not well-filled with kernels.”

Nuts can then be dried by spreading them in no more than three layers deep in a cool, dry place. A garage or tool shed will work. After about two weeks, the nuts should be dried and ready to enjoy by themselves or in your favorite fall dish.

How to crack open black walnuts

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 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.

How to crack open black walnuts

How to Sell Eggs

Living in an area that has black walnut trees can be a gold mine as they typically produce nuts through late summer and early fall and are flavorful. However, their yield must be collected from the ground, either by hand or with a gathering machine. If you go to the trouble to bring them in there are companies willing to buy them. You can also choose to sell them through your own business.

Go Nuts

The nutrient-rich black walnut has a richer, bolder taste than the ordinary walnut, which makes it a favorite of whole-food connoisseurs, bakers and health food stores. Many larger walnut companies have hulling and processing stations across the country.

Find the plant closest to you through an organization such as the American Walnut Manufacturers Association. Make sure transporting your bonanza to the processing plant won’t be cost prohibitive. Get instructions on when and how to harvest and store the nuts and when to bring them to the facility. Nut companies can process them and generally pay for them by the pound.

Shell Game

If you decide to harvest and sell black walnuts on a micro-scale, such as to friends and neighbors, learn how best to process the walnuts yourself. Removing the hard green outer shell is often the most time-consuming and difficult step.

According to Hammons Products, one way to get at the treasure inside the shell is simply to use a heavy-duty hammer to crack it open. Spread the shelled nuts on a screen to dry and then use a hammer or nut cracker to open them. You also might try placing nuts in your driveway and running them over with your vehicle, but use caution to avoid tire, car body and driveway damage.

One Shell of a Business

Walnuts are more than just snacks, so you can boost your profits by selling the outers as well as the inners. Some manufacturers use those hard shells as abrasives to polish or clean soft metals and stones. Oil companies uses the shells to manufacture sealants, and cosmetic companies use the softened shells in soaps as exfoliants for the skin.

Selling directly to large companies probably won’t be feasible, unless you grow walnuts on a vast scale. You can, however, sell your shells to companies that process them for resale, such as Hammons Products.

Cut Your Costs

Some people selling black walnuts on a larger scale may place ads in local papers and online media sites offering to buy your bounty. While you may make less money selling to an individual broker, you’re likely to have lower costs, particularly if you stipulate that the eventual buyer must come to collect them. You can also place an ad seeking buyers.

Home Work

If you have the time and know-how you can harvest, process, package and sell your nuts on your own. Attend farmers markets or approach local and organic food stores to offer your products for sale. You may also be able to sell to restaurants and bakeries.

Fairs, festivals and other public and community events can also provide a sales platform. Check your local health department code and business licensing office to learn more about any required permits.

Black Walnuts are brought to you by the thousands of people who pick the crop by hand every harvest season.


How to crack open black walnuts

The Black Walnut crop is predominantly grown in the Midwest and East-Central United States

Black Walnuts are one of the few crops still picked by hand today. Harvesting occurs every fall when the wild Black Walnut crop is hulled, bagged and sold to a network of buying stations, or “hullers,” for Hammons Products Company. Each year, millions of pounds of nuts are purchased from approximately 215 buying locations across the United States. From start to finish—planting, harvesting and final processing—Black Walnuts are a hands-on product, making them all natural and fully sustainable. As the popularity of this wildly complex nut continues to grow, the demand for harvesters to head outside to pick up the fallen crop grows as well.

You can read about the condition of this years crop and the progress of the Harvest on our News section.

How to Gather and Sell Black Walnuts

For many people across the Midwest and East-Central United States, the Black Walnut harvest every October is a tradition passed down from generation to generation.

The harvest continues to be a longstanding tradition for many, as well as an opportunity to earn extra income or raise money for a worthy organization. Whatever the reason, the only way we all get to enjoy Black Walnuts at our dinner tables is because of the hard working hands of the harvesters.

New to the harvest? Here are a few tips to get you started!

How to crack open black walnuts

How to crack open black walnuts

1. Find a tree or several trees with Black Walnuts. Be sure to get permission to collect nuts that aren’t from your yard (many folks are happy to let people have them).

How to crack open black walnuts

2. Gather the nuts soon after they fall and while the hulls are mostly green. Collect them by hand or with our Nut Wizard – a handy nut-gathering tool with a long handle and barrel-like end that picks Black Walnuts up like magic! You do not need to remove the hulls.

How to crack open black walnuts

3. Put collected nuts in bags or a truck bed for hauling.

How to crack open black walnuts

4. Take the nuts to the nearest Hammons hulling location within a couple of days of collecting. The operator will run the nuts through a hulling machine to remove the outer green hull. You’ll be paid for the weight after hulling. NOTE: The faster you pick up and deliver the nuts to the hulling station, the better tasting the Black Walnut!

How to crack open black walnuts

5. Enjoy extra spending money and memories made picking up Black Walnuts with your family and friends and take pride the next time you see a bag of Black Walnuts on your grocery store shelf!

How to crack open black walnuts

Walnuts are my hands down favorite nuts with the added benefit of not only being high in protein but omega-3 fatty acids as well. Omega-3 fatty acids are touted as extremely beneficial for the heart but beyond that, they are delicious! What better reason to grow your own? The question is, when are walnuts ready to pick and what is the best way to pick walnuts?

When are Walnuts Ready to Pick?

Walnuts may be either English or the black walnut varieties, with the latter having a thicker shell and more intense flavor. Both types are fruiting, deciduous trees that are fairly easy to grow and lacking in few serious issues especially once mature.

They can grow to 100 feet (30 m.) tall and 50 feet (15 m.) across, which makes the tree a bit unmanageable for some landscapes. Luckily, young trees can be trained via pruning. Walnut trees can be grown with a central leader or remove the leader which will encourage side shoot growth and restrict the tree’s size.

A pitted shell encases a fibrous, leather sheath that splits as the nuts begin to ripen in the fall and indicates that walnut tree harvesting is nigh. Once you are done harvesting the walnuts, you can eat them right away, but keep in mind they won’t be quite like those purchased ones at the grocers.

The nuts will be rubbery in texture and are, thus, usually dried which also extends their shelf life. Think your nuts are ready for harvesting but don’t know the best way to pick walnuts? Keep reading to find out how to harvest walnuts.

How to Harvest Walnuts

Depending upon the variety and region they are grown in, walnut tree harvesting starts from early September to early November. At this point, the kernels are light in color and the membrane between the halves has turned brown.

To determine if your nuts are ready for harvest, crack a few open. The nuts should show browning of the membrane and loosening of the hull. Take your nut samples from as high up in the tree as possible since those that are at this height ripen latest. Also, if your tree is water stressed, harvesting walnuts will be delayed. To speed things up, be sure to keep the tree well watered through harvest.

Begin harvesting when you estimate that at least 85% of the nuts can be easily removed from the tree. Delay too long and insects and birds may get to the nuts before you do. Additionally, if you delay too long, the outer husks become soft and black and the resulting nut has a bitter, rancid flavor.

To begin harvesting walnuts, you will need a pole or a pole combined with a hook for larger trees. Shake the nuts loose using the pole. Immediately pick the walnuts up from the ground. If they lie there too long, they will either begin to mold or become over run with ants, or both. The hulls of walnuts contain phenols, chemical compounds that cannot only stain hands but for some people cause skin irritation, so when handling walnuts, wear rubber gloves.

Once you have harvested the walnuts, hull the nuts using a pocket knife. Wash the hulled nuts and then dry them in a single layer on a smooth, flat, shaded area. Stir the nuts around on a daily basis to promote drying. If drying outdoors, cover the nuts with plastic netting to deter birds. The length of time until complete drying depends on temperature but, generally, will be dry in three to four days. At this point, the kernels should be brittle as well as the membrane separating the two halves.

Store the cured walnuts in a cool, dry area or to extend their shelf life, in the refrigerator or freezer. They can be stored for up to a year in the fridge and for two or more years in the freezer; that is, of course, if you can stay out of them that long.

How to crack open black walnuts

It’s technically not a nut, but Kristina is nuts for this nut.

Words: Kristina Jensen

When we returned to the property in the Marlborough Sounds where we are care-takers, we found that there was a new member of the family waiting to meet us.

Sally (originally christened Schnitzel) is an adorable little black piglet. My brother warned my husband Paul that we would never be able to eat her if she had a name.

Fortunately, the eating of the piglet is not my personal concern. While I feel concerned for Sally, she does belong to someone else who will do the dastardly deed when the time comes.

Hopefully, we won’t be here to witness it because (a) my husband really likes pigs, and (b) we are mostly vegetarian (for many different reasons).

How to crack open black walnuts

One of the great perks of living in Clova Bay is harvesting nuts from a huge old walnut tree. According to one local, it is possibly over 100 years old, although there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on its age. Whatever the figure, it is a massive specimen.

Our bedroom looks right out onto it. We get to witness the gauntlet of seasonal change as the tree moves through its cycles of buds, leaves, catkins, green developing nuts, ripe nuts, and finally its bare skeleton through winter.

We nickname the developing lime-green nut shells ‘green bombs’. This is due to the incredible crash they make when they fall off the tree onto the roof above our heads and wake us up in the wee hours of the night.

The nuts from this particular tree are quite big and each one in its fresh green suitcase weighs around 70g. That’s about the weight of a jumbo egg.

How to crack open black walnuts

Kristina and her favourite walnut tree.

When I first came across the recipe for a nut tart, it called for pecans. In North America, where pecans grow, people battle with squirrels to get the nuts. Here we are in a war with possums, rats, weka, and now potentially Sally.

I have a love-hate relationship with black walnut trees. As a child we had a swing in one of two very tall black walnut trees along the lane. We could swing out a great distance. It was like flying, I thought.

But in the fall, walnuts rained down and we girls were expected to don gloves to pick up the walnuts and spread them in the lane so car tires would squish the pulpy hulls before we got out the hammers to crack open the hard shells underneath for those tasty nut kernels. Gloves were essential when handling the hulls. Otherwise hands and tools too were covered in a dark brown color which was difficult to remove.

Despite that pulpy covering and the hard shell around the nut kernels, they are a useful food for squirrels as well as raccoons, turkeys and bears. Like many nuts, the walnut provides protein, carbohydrates and fat, necessary for storing energy for those animals that hibernate.

Walnuts produce varied-size crops. Some years there are so many, we can fill buckets and buckets of walnuts to process, leaving some for wildlife, of course. Other times, like this year, the walnut crop is pretty sparse.

I’ve never had a walnut fall directly on me, but I did one time drive a rented car through a large grove of black walnut trees in a windstorm. It rained walnuts on the car. I was so sure the car rental company would find dents for which I’d be responsible, but hard as those walnuts fell, they were not able, thankfully, to leave dents on the car.

Walnut hulls and leaves have an easily recognized odor. I find it interesting, but nose-tingling; I wouldn’t recommend walnut hull perfumed bed sheets! This odor is from the polyphenol exuded by the tree. As you may know, when this polyphenol leaches from the tree, it controls what will or will not grow in the vicinity of the tree. If you are planning to plant shrubs or flowers near a walnut tree, do your research to find out which ones are not affected by this polyphenol.

That odor helps me to identify walnut seedlings when squirrels graciously plant walnuts in my gardens. If I find the seedlings the first summer, they are easy to pull out. If the seedlings hide until a later summer, their deep roots make it very difficult to remove them entirely.

At this time of year you’ve probably noticed some walnut trees are festooned with webby silk bags. The bags are the homes for fall webworm larvae. Fall webworms use a variety of trees; I’ve seen their bags in hickory and cherry trees, but in this area they seem to prefer black walnut trees. These are different from the tent caterpillar nests one sees in the spring. The fall webworm larvae eat the leaves encased in the silk bags, so some trees become partially naked before the leaves would normally drop. Do these larvae hurt the trees? No. Mature trees have stored up enough energy for them to continue living in good health. I have never seen fall webworms in the branches of very young trees, which might indeed cause a set back in growth.

Black walnut trees are sometimes planted as “money in the bank.” Maybe the person who planted them won’t benefit, but the next generation might sell walnut trees for lumber. The wood is used for furniture, as well as flooring, veneer, and gunstocks.

Black walnut trees are indeed interesting. I hope you enjoy looking for black walnut trees. They may be intentionally planted or growing informally in a hedgerow or an untended field.