Hickory Nuts from the Woods

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We spent the day at my parents’ house on Saturday. Two of my aunts and several cousins were visiting for the weekend. We planned to spend the day visiting, eating and enjoying the wonderful fall weather.

It was a perfect fall day in the country – sunny and warm enough to dispense with a jacket. We spent as much time outside as we could, soaking up the sun and warm air against the winter.

Some of us took a walk while the rest of the crew succumbed to the pull of a Saturday afternoon nap. On the walk, my mom found a few hickory nuts lying next to the road. I had never seen a hickory nut and was intrigued. We took the four we found back with us and cracked them. Only one had any meat inside, but it was good. Dad said he knew of another tree about a half mile down the road.

We hit the jackpot with the second tree. The squirrels had bypassed the nuts, for some reason. We found way more than anyone was interested in picking up. I would have gathered more than we did, but everyone else was done.

We walked back and cracked a few of the shells. Then a couple of us attempted to pick the nuts from the shells. Tedious work, to be sure. The nuts were oily and came out of the shells in bits. Our hands were covered with oily grit by the time we decided we were done. We ended up with about a half cup of nut bits.

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I have since done an internet search on the best way to crack and pick hickory nuts. You know it’s a bad sign when every place you look has a different method. To me that means none of them work particularly well. There seems to be a knack to cracking the shell in the first place so you don’t pulverize the nut inside. I don’t have it.

The hickory nuts taste like mild pecans and they smell a little like a cross between a pecan and a hazelnut. They are pretty good. Not sure they are good enough for all the work to shell them, but they were free.

There is something so enticing about free food from the uncultivated woods. I love the idea of gathering nature’s bounty and taking it home to stockpile it for the winter. What does that make me? A squirrel collecting nuts for the winter? A throwback to hunters and gatherers?

Whatever I am, I am also the proud owner of several pounds of hickory nuts. I am going to be on intimate terms with these nuts until I get free them from their shells. You can better believe I am going to showcase them in something baked, when they are ready for their debut. Hickory nut shortbread cookies, anyone?

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11 thoughts on “Hickory Nuts from the Woods

    • Did you ever get more than tiny bits of nuts, doing it that way? I am so frustrated with the tiny bits I’m getting. I think I need better tools, too. No lobster pick here, but I did find a pair of tweezers that have thin enough blades to slip between the nuts and the shells.

      Farmers in the Ozarks (and probably anywhere with hickory woods) used to let their pigs free to forage on the hickory nuts. I imagine that is where “pig nuts” comes from. I bet that made for some great bacon and pork chops!

  1. Being terribly allergic to tree nuts, I am happy to learn that dealing with unshelling hickory nuts is one life frustration I can avoid! 🙂 I do understand your satisfaction with gathering food from nature, though. There is something special about gathering wild berries and herbs or even edibles from plants you have planted. Maybe we are all hunters and gatherers at heart. 🙂

  2. It has been years since I did hickory nuts. But remember roasting on a cookie sheet until the shells cracked, then removing the nut. How long ago, you ask? Well, 70’s and early 80’s.
    Was just reading another’s blog and he made Italian Almond Cookies, which can be rolled in sliced almonds or pine nuts. I just learned something new, that you do not want to eat pine nuts grown in China because you get pine nut syndrome. See blog for a link to this problem.
    http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2013/11/italian-almond-cookies-amaretti-recipe/
    http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2010/04/pine-nut-syndrome/
    And, I love pine nuts. Will have to watch the origin place.

    • Interesting. Did you do anything to the nuts before you baked them? Did any of them explode?

      I saw that about the pine nuts! I haven’t bought them in a couple of years because they are so expensive. I wonder if the Chinese pine nuts are a different variety of pine tree (probably) that more people have a sensitivity to than Italian pine nuts. I’m definitely going to steer away from the Chinese variety.

      • i did nothing more than lay them on a baking sheet. I have no idea as to the temp or time. Think I just checked on them every so often & when I saw most of them had cracked, removed from the oven. And, I don’t think any exploded.

        I don’t buy pine nuts too often either, because of the price tag. I purchase them at my food coop, so know they are from the USA. I was totally shocked when I read about the China pine nuts. Did not know that before. So, will definitely be very careful about buying pine nuts, elsewhere, in the future.

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