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Questions about Black Walnut viability and nut processing

 
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Hello, and thanks to anyone taking the time to read this and respond. Just had a few questions in two broad categories about black walnuts.

Nut Processing

1) I’ve seen where some people wait to process the walnuts until the husks have aged a little and are wet and easy to slough off. Is this just something that happens with time, or does an event such as a frost need to happen before the husks are easy to remove? Could sometime else replicate this natural event, if so?

2) Has anyone ever tried boiling the nuts and skimming the fat off the top of the water, to make nut butter? This is a method I read about in the book Braiding Sweetgrass and was curious about its efficacy.

3) Is there a way, in water or some other medium, to efficiently separate the shells from the nuts if they were all crushed up indiscriminately with a rock/hammer or some such? Daintily and delicately cracking each individual one to pluck it out whole doesn’t seem like a very efficient staple to me.


Future Viability

1. With the relatively recently Thousand Cankers disease outbreaks in the Southeast US, has anyone heard of a hybrids between the Arizona Walnut or another western US species crossed with the Eastern Black Walnut? If this exists, what are its pros and cons compared with the regular original Eastern black walnut? I’m hesitant to plan for using them as a staple if they might be on the verge of being wiped out like the Chestnut soon enough.

Thanks again for any responses!
 
Isaiah Bohin
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And one last question! Do they require winter / cold stratifying in order to germinate from seed? I see they grow pretty far south, into Texas and north Florida, but can’t be sure.
 
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i’m a co-founder and operator of a facility that processes wild nuts including black walnuts.

processing:
1) we’ve found that the flavor is much better when dehulled pretty quickly - preferably when the hulls are still green. you do need them to be ripe though, so at least soft enough to make fingerprint dents in the hull. i had never heard of people wanting them to be easier to hull. to me that’s not the hard part.

2) you mean like crushing them and then boiling? the process that braiding sweetgrass talks about is for making hickory milk and in theory could work with walnuts. you don’t really want added water in a ‘butter’ product.  you might end up with a bunch of shell floating with the meats if you just try to boil them crushed.

3) walnut meats can be float-separated from their shells but the two are pretty close, density-wise, so you do need to adjust the density of the water a bit (with salt or sugar).

future:
not that i’ve heard of. would be a good project!
 
greg mosser
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and my references say 2-4 months stratification is best and that english walnut likely has less need for stratification than J. nigra.
 
Isaiah Bohin
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Hey Greg, thanks so much for your response. I appreciate you clearing that stuff up for me. Just a couple of follow ups if you don’t mind.

1) In regards to the hickory milk, I think we’re talking about two different things (although I would be interested to about hear that as well!). Here is the passage I’m referencing near page 23-ish.

‘Nuts are like the pan fish of the forest, full of protein and especially fat —“poor man’s meat,” and they were poor. Today we eat them daintily, shelled and toasted, but in the old times they’d boil them up in a porridge. The fat floated to the top like a chicken soup and they skimmed it and stored it as nut butter: good winter food.’

I know this is not how the modern product nut butter is made, so my bad for not being clear. Are you familiar at all with the efficacy of the above method?

2) That’s interesting to me that a walnut native to Europe would have less need for cold stratification than one native to the US southeast. Might be a bit outside your wheelhouse, but any idea why that is? If I get nuts from the more southern (Texas or north FL) end of their range, would those be likely to need a lot less cold time to properly germinate?
 
greg mosser
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1) that’s an interesting passage, and not how i remember it! the passage sounds like they’re boiling up a porridge of already-shelled nuts - since a porridge is something you eat as is. so there was evidently a lot labor in it beforehand. it still doesn’t fully make sense to me since at ambient temperatures, nut oils are liquid, and wouldn’t act like butter. maybe in the depths of an old-school upstate ny winter. or maybe if it was oil+nutmeats, fully dried back out, otherwise it sounds like a recipe for catastrophic spoilage. we may have to write ms. kimmerer for clarification!

the hickory ‘milk’ i was referring to is one of the traditional ways of consuming the thicker-shelled hickories in many tribes. the nuts are crushed shell and all and boiled. loose nutmeats and some oil will collect on top. when it’s boiled long enough, the good floaties get skimmed off, everything else gets strained out of the broth, and depending on one’s needs, the oil+nutmeats get used elsewhere or mashed up good and reincorporated into the broth/milk to make it richer. makes a great soup base, among other things.

2) you have to remember that ‘english’ walnuts were originally persian walnuts. the difference in stratification needs isn’t too surprising in that light. and i definitely wouldn’t be surprised if black walnuts from the southern end of their range had less need for stratification.

 
Isaiah Bohin
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Thanks again for sharing your insights here Greg.

So I’m seeing the confusion and you’re right, it doesn’t make much sense as written unless these oils are getting very solid at whatever bitter cold winter temps they use to get there.

However, my primary concern, which you pretty much answered with your second paragraph about the hickory nut milk, was whether the oils could be efficiently harvested off of the top without having to go to the trouble of processing the nuts fully. In hindsight I see how I could have phrased it better, and I’ll keeping this traditional nut milk method in mind as it not only answer my initial question but tells me what to do with the excess!

And finally, I didn’t know or at least remember that about English walnuts, so thank you for educating me. I have kind of an obsession about using native plants at all costs, but things like this (climate change) start to show its limitations. Even in the Southeast US, the pace of warming is too fast for species to adapt in time. Looks like I’ll be importing species from even warmer areas and/or crossing them with the native ones.

Thanks again for your expertise, it’s appreciated.
 
greg mosser
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i suspect the amount of crushing needed to extract even a halfway-decent amount of oil via boiling would make it too inefficient to be really useful.
 
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the only one ive ever seen process black walnuts was my 76 year old neighbor, he put em all on a flat spot on the driveway and drove over them for a few days
 
greg mosser
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if it’s a gravel driveway, that’s a dehulling technique. I've been there. also stomping them out with a pair of wellies on. most old timers that i know of that mess with walnuts end up cracking the nuts out one by one while watching television over the winter, though. as far as getting clean, edible nutmeats on a home scale, that’s kind of the standard.
 
bruce Fine
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yup, exactly. he dehulled them in gravel driveway and would sit in wood fire stove warmed living room cracking  them in winter time.
great memories of my late friend
 
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Stomping on them does work pretty well, though it is tedious if there's lots all at once. Definitely makes a big difference to get them out of the husk quickly. Last time I did it, they'd been sitting on the ground for awhile and the husks had already started to brown. They had kind of a funky taste when I shelled them.
When I get the time to collect and process a bunch, I will probably try this method. Bonus, you could probably make a stain or ink out of the walnut water.

 
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Regarding the nut oil, I just finished reading Native Harvests: American Indian Wild Foods and Recipes and it describes the same boil-and-skim technique. Grind nuts coarsely, then boil and cool, skimming the oil off the top after cooling. The boiled nuts are eaten as porridge.
 
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I really dislike dealing with the hulls. What a mess. I built a wire cage and tied it in the back of my truck. Whenever I gather enough nuts I toss them in and drive around for a couple weeks. Mess-less hull removal.
 
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