Harvesting, Curing and Eating Walnuts
We have lots of walnuts on this property. I’ve been around walnut trees most of my life and have tried to eat them a few times with no luck. Why didn’t the walnuts I picked up in the backyard taste like the ones you bought in the store? Well, first of all I didn’t know you had to cure them. Secondly, I always had sub-par walnuts that were tough to open and provided little to no meat.
Today I picked some off the ground that had fallen recently and cracked them open. We’re in luck! These nuts have a pretty good amount of meat in them.
Like most nuts, walnuts are protected by two layers, an outer husk and a shell. First is the husk, which looks like a green fruit and smells like citrus. There are lots of instructions online about removing walnut husks, but I’m all about making things easy so will be using a popular method called: Wait until it rots off. We won’t wait too long, but a couple of days after it drops the husk will soften, at which point you can easily stomp on it and remove the nut. If you can’t let them sit for a few days (gleaning from other trees, competition with squirrels, worms burrowing in…) lots of people choose to just run over them a few times. The husk is soft and will break, but the nut is hard enough to withstand the weight of your tires.
Once you have the hull/husk off you can collect the walnut. A portion of the nuts are probably going to have had insect damage from walnut weevils and husk fly maggots. An old trick is to put the nuts in water. If they float they’re bad.
Do not compost the husks. They contain juglone, a substance produced by the walnut tree to kill off competition. This is why we think our apple trees near the big walnut tree are dying. You don’t want large amounts of juglone in your compost pile!
Walnuts must be cured to prepare them for storage and allow the nut flavor to develop. Stack the clean, hulled walnuts in shallow layers about 2-3 nuts deep and put them in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight. Let them cure for about two or three weeks before eating. Once cured, walnuts should be stored in cloth bags or wire baskets that allow air to circulate around them or they may mold. The temperature should be low and the humidity somewhat high. Our retired spring house (now where the well pressure tank is kept) is the perfect place. An unfinished basement would probably do as well.
A trick I’ve heard, but not yet tried, that is supposed to make cracking them easier by keeping the nuts from breaking into smaller pieces is to soak them in the shell for a day. Use hot water (but you don’t have to keep it hot) and change the water a few times. I’ll try this if the nuts do shatter, but if I can avoid the extra step I will.
Once shelled you can store the walnuts in a bowl on the table for a few weeks. You can also refrigerate them for a couple of months, bake them, or freeze the nuts for long-term storage.
We have good chestnuts and walnuts. I’ll work on bringing the apples back next year. We’re also considering orchard sites for other fruits, and I can’t wait to get a mulberry tree going!
Crying baby, gotta go!