How to Harvest Black Walnuts for Nutmeat
Collect your black walnuts from trees that are away from polluted areas, between late August and early October, depending on when they ripen in your local. You know they are ripe because that’s when they begin to fall off the branches. All you need to do is pick them up! Wearing old gloves or reusable rubber gloves helps to avoid staining the hands with the black-brown juice of the husks. The walnut should be intact (not sampled by squirrels or run over by a car, for example) and free from mold – however, it’s okay if the husk is turning black and even rotting – looks aren’t everything! We are interested in whats under the husk, right?
De-husk: If the husks are fairly clean and still green, you can save them and use medicinal value to make an herbal tincture. Otherwise, you’ll need a place to discard them away from flower and vegetable gardens, and not in the compost heap if you will use that compost for your gardens – the chemical, juglone, which is what makes the juice (and your hands) turn black is present in the husks will inhibit the growth of many plants (ferns and wild ginger don’t seem to mind, though). I usually toss the husks where around any unwanted weeds. Worms hate black walnut husk, so again, no husks in your garden as the worms will try their best to get away!
It’s best to remove the husk somewhere outside; it’s a really messy process. You’ll want to wear gloves, old clothing, and rubber boots. Rotting husks can easily be removed by hand; squeezing and breaking off the husk should do it. Or, gently tap the husk with a hammer, making sure you don’t hit hard enough to crack the shell. Don’t worry – it’s REALLY hard to crack the shell – just be a little bit careful.
Rinse: Use a metal or plastic container and agitate those nuts. A hose with spray attachment works well. I also use a clean plunger for best agitation. The juice from the walnuts can stain enamel, so don’t do this in your bathtub! Pour the now-black water where ever you are trying to get rid of unwanted weeds. Repeat the whole process until the water is clear. Again, if there are worms around, they’ll come out of the soil trying to avoid the juglone – I keep a spray bottle nearby to mist off any worms I’ve bothered and try to relocate them. I love worms and want to keep them in my garden!
Dry: Hang in a clean place in a mesh bag (like what fruit and veggies sometimes are sold in) for two weeks or up to two years. If you hang it outside for a few days, it may help the nuts ripen well, but you’ll need to watch for squirrels!
When you are ready to shell the black walnuts: Fill a sink or container with water, and drop the dried nuts in – the ones that sink are good, while the nuts that float should be discarded. Next, place the good nuts, one at a time, on a hard, clean surface, and use a hammer to split the nuts. To avoid getting pieces of broken shell in your face, cover the walnut with a clean cloth before cracking the shell. Next, use wire cutters to break the sections into smaller pieces to release the nutmeat. Keep the shelled nuts separate, and carefully go over the meat to look for any pieces of shells you may have missed. Remove them and wash the nuts to catch any last bits of shell or debris.
Drying the nutmeat: Lay on a cookie sheet to dry – or salt them and roast them at 320-350 degrees in the oven.
To Store: When dry, put them in a sealed container and store in the freezer for up to a year.