04 November 2015

hickory nuts

On a walk between houses (public footpath) the other day, my four-year-old paused to pick up some nuts off the ground. They were all over the place under a certain tree. Got home and I looked at one that was cracked open, though: hm, that looks an awful lot like a walnut. I did some searching. Turns out it is related to walnuts and pecans: pignut hickory.
I cracked open a few intact ones she'd brought home and tried them. They're good. Slightly sweet, nutty and just a hint of bitter at the end. Better than walnuts, more like a mild pecan.
Went back the next day and gathered an entire cloth shopping bag full. It was almost too heavy to carry.
We are going to hull and crack nuts now. My kids are delighted.
I have not actually begun opening the nuts yet- just gradually hulling them all, then will wash and sort. I did notice when gathering them that some had no weight in the hand, my guess is those are rotted or worm-eaten. So far we've only discarded maybe a tenth of the volume, that have obvious wormholes or decay. Probably will have to discard more, but there are so many. And I feel certain there are other hickory trees in the area on public land- my older daughter says she's seen those nuts on the ground where she walks to school. Nobody seems to gather them (except the squirrels) and I can tell you why: getting the nutmeat out is quite a bit of work. There is a trick to cracking the shells at just the right spot so it falls open across its own seams and releases most of the nut intact. This is a skill we have yet to acquire, so far I have just been getting bits extracted with a pick, an occasional decent-size piece.
If you don't mind a bit of tedium of extracting the nuts, there are so many things you can do with them. Eat them raw, or roasted, or added to cake, bread or pies. Supposedly you can boil the shells or hulls and sweeten it for a syrup. I really want to try making a pie using hickories in lieu of pecans. But I'll give an update when we've actually processed all these nuts and seen if the end result is worth the bother!

I was a bit disappointed we've missed getting mulberries two years in a row, now. I like having something seasonal to look forward to gathering every year- dandelion root and leaf in spring, mulberries in early summer and now possibly hickory nuts in the fall. I never thought I'd be a forager, but I really do enjoy the satisfaction of it. It's completely fresh, local and free. All it cost me is time and some hands-on work, and my kids love doing it with me.

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