This continues to be a great year for fruits and nuts. We made a trip to our local state park to go nutting and maybe have a little hike as well! We saw a lot of black walnuts, but I had already picked up as many of them as we were likely to eat in a year. We were concentrating on hickory nuts on this family outing.
Any kind of food gathering is a good and more than economical outing for a family–whether you are visiting a you-pick orchard or berry patch (many of which have free fun activities for the kids) or gathering mushrooms, berries, or nuts in a state or county park. You will find that the kids have the best eye for detail and enjoy filling their bucket or bag faster than the grownups!
Praise the children for their efforts and bring along some special snacks and drinks that they only get on outings. Be sure to bring hats, insect repellent, and warm clothes so that everyone is comfortable. Never force a little one to gather when he or she are tired or bored with picking.
Hickory nuts (Carya ovata) are wonderful because their bone color is easy to spot, and they are usually free of their hulls when you find them lying on the ground. The shagbark hickory has rough bark that sticks out in strips and is easy to identify. It is important that you do make a positive identification because bitter nut trees have nuts that look the same as hickory nuts but are so bitter that even a tiny bit of one in your mouth will wreck your day. (I found this out the hard way!) The bitter nut doesn’t have rough bark and the hulls you will find scattered on the ground with the nuts are quite thin when compared to those of the shagbark hickory.
Once you find a good tree to harvest, it is hard to leave it until you have picked up every one. The flavor of the nuts will also motivate you. Hickory nuts taste like pecans (pecans are also in the hickory family) with a tinge of maple flavor. Allow the nuts to dry before hulling them. Discard any nuts that have holes in them. (These will have a small fat worm inside eating the nut.)
Freeing the nut meats from the shell takes a bit of patience and practice, but the effort is well worth it. Euell Gibbons (Can you tell that he is my hero?) recommends that you freeze the nuts for a day before shelling them a handful at a time while they are still frozen and brittle. Hold the nut upright and strike on the narrower end with a hammer. Strike the nut just hard enough to crack but not hard enough to shatter the thin-walled nut shell.
You can use hickory nuts just as you would a walnut or pecan in baking or eating out of hand. The nuts freeze well so you can enjoy them all year. Begonia