January and Harvesting Black Walnuts

I have really enjoyed January this year.  I love the church celebration of Christmas with its music and programs, but all of those things take significant preparation and time in the months leading up through December.  So now January’s schedule has been relatively open, especially with snow canceling some of our regular activities.  I have been able to do a few projects for which I normally would not have time.  One of those is cracking and picking out black walnuts. When I was growing up in Pennsylvania, in the fall, my family would pick up hickory nuts, or shellbarks as we called them, from my grandparents’ meadow.  Because the shells are so hard, my dad would crack them with a vise.  Then in the winter months, it was mostly my mother who worked at picking out the nut meats.  She would fill container after container with the nuts and freeze the containers for later use.  My mom and dad still harvest hickory nuts this way.  It is tedious work, but the rewards are worth it to have nuts to use in cookies, muffins, cakes, or just to munch.We live in a small “city”, but I have been amazed at the amount of fruit and nut trees scattered in the yards of the residents.  This past fall, I noticed two black walnut trees on the hill by the creek behind our house.  Nut trees apparently only give a good harvest every other year, and this was the year!  There were many, many nuts falling to the ground.  If you have ever had a black walnut tree in your yard, you know you have to pick up the nuts before mowing the grass.  I threw a lot of them over the hill, but then I decided I would try to harvest some.  Our children and I picked up many five-gallon buckets of them.  Our daughter and I wore rubber gloves and removed the green outside shell.  The dark brown slimy inside of the shell will stain badly.  For a week or so, we left them on the driveway to dry.  Then I laid cardboard on a picnic table on our covered porch and moved the walnuts there for them to dry out further.  After a few weeks, I put them in cardboard boxes and brought them inside.  All during the busy fall and Christmas time, the boxes of walnuts sat on my kitchen floor; and I wondered when I would get around to cracking and picking out the nut meats.  Then January arrived with its clear schedule and some free minutes.  We borrowed my dad’s vise and began cracking the walnuts.  The children have enjoyed helping here and there, but I ask my husband to crack a pan-ful at a time for me.  Then when there is a few minutes here or there, I pick out the meat of the black walnuts.

The vise we use to crack hickory or black walnuts.

The vise we use to crack hickory or black walnuts.

I have enjoyed the process on several levels.  First, the activity connects our family with past generations.  Secondly, we are able to provide wholesome, natural food for our family without spending cash.  Third, we are redeeming a food that would otherwise go unused.  Lastly, I feel a connection to our Heavenly Father who has created and provided such fine nourishment for our bodies.  There is something satisfying about harvesting your own food that you just cannot buy at the grocery store.

Cracked black walnuts and the harvested nut meat.

Cracked black walnuts and the harvested nut meat.

I see lots of black walnut trees here and there throughout the country.  In the fall, they drop their fruit and people do not use them.  If you have the time and energy, harvesting can be very rewarding.

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