How to Shell Black Walnuts and the Story of THE BIG ONE

IMG_5885I’ve spent some very pleasant afternoons on the patio listening to the blue jays and cracking black walnuts this fall. This is a task that I have often put off until the dead of winter. This year the nuts were so big I couldn’t wait to open them! I remembered an old timer’s advice to shell the nuts when they were not totally dry–that it was easier to get the meats out.

Taking Euell Gibbon’s method and a powerful nutcracker, I settled down to the task.

  1. Fit the nut into the nutcracker lengthwise with the pointy and blunt ends as the pressure points. Don’t try to crack the nut at its equator.IMG_5895
  2. Crack the nut in half.IMG_5896IMG_5903
  3. Crack the halves in half (Now you have four pieces.)IMG_5899
  4. Crack the quarters into eighths carefully so as not to crush the nut meats (easier said than done). The nut meats should fall out at this point. You may need a nut pick for the uneven breaks.IMG_5901

This method results in bigger, more intact nutmeats with less frustration: the main reason (frustration and nut powder rather than pieces) that many people will pass up black walnuts.IMG_5907

IMG_5902If you are using a hammer, be sure to always hit the nut on the pointed end. I started out using a hammer because I was too lazy to dig out and assemble my freestanding nut cracker. I hit my hand a few too many times with the hammer. When my husband saw what I was doing, he assembled THE BIG ONE–if you could fit the planet into it, it would crack it–for me. Good man.

IMG_5886There is a story behind this big nutcracker. (Most of my possessions have a backstory.) I used to have a subscription to a farm inventor’s newspaper called Farm Show. In it I saw a little story about a guy in western Wisconsin who had made this nutcracker. He’d sent a picture of it into the paper, and the articles always end with contact information. I called him on the phone and asked him if he would make me one, because I thought that was why he had sent the picture to the paper. A few weeks later he stopped by here on his way home from a mission trip down South where he and some other guys from his little church had been fixing people’s houses and mobile homes. (He had his pickup bed full of grapefruits he’d picked from a tree in the backyard of some elderly lady who’s roof he had fixed. She had no money but a lot of unpicked grapefruit. She wanted to give him something for his trouble so he accepted the fruit.)

After visiting with us for an hour or so, he agreed to build me a nutcracker like the one pictured in the article. We didn’t talk price, we didn’t talk deadlines, he just said he’d call when it was done. It turns out that he wasn’t really selling the nutcrackers. He was a retired farmer from the hill country down near the Mississippi (Think Blue Ridge Mountains only smaller.) He just decided he liked me enough to make me a nut cracker and take a little money for it.

We had to drive an hour and a half deep into Mississippi hill country and hogback ridges to find his farm. It was as he’d described it, deep in a valley across the creek from the small wooden church  where he had been baptized, confirmed, and in who’s cemetery he one day would be buried. His side hill farm consisted of a two-story frame farm house, an old stanchion barn, various wood outbuildings (one with 1868 painted on it that he said hadn’t been opened since his grandfather died and was still packed to the rafters with the old man’s possessions), and a tin machine shed where he created all his inventions. There was a  portable sawmill he had built himself sitting in the yard.

We drove over a cattle grate and a small creek and into the yard. We were greeted by a dog chained to the gate of the picket fence that protected the house and a small garden from wandering Holsteins. He had leased the farmland and barn and only retained title to the house and machine shed. He’d be remarrying his second cousin’s widow soon and would be having an auction of most of the contents of the outbuildings and house and would be moving into town with his new wife. She was a high school classmate as well as a distant relation by marriage and a town girl. She refused to move into the farm house, so he would be fixing up a small shop in her large garage when he moved into town with her.

He gave us the “nickel tour” of the his home, and indicating a small bedroom off the kitchen, he related   he had been born in that bedroom, and when it was his time to go, he would have his family bring him back to the farm so he could die there. The house wouldn’t be sold until after the funeral in the small church at the end of his farm’s driveway.

He asked a pittance for the nut cracker that he had made from scrap he picked up off the floor of his shop, welded together, and spray painted red. (I like the color.) The tripod the cracker is mounted on is made from basswood he had cut and milled on the farm.  I bargained up and paid him more than he asked for his handiwork (because I liked him, too!) and wished him well on his future marriage and move to town. Begonia

This entry was posted in Cooking and Food Preservation, Gardening and Foraging and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to How to Shell Black Walnuts and the Story of THE BIG ONE

  1. Joanna Campbell says:

    I love back stories, and this is a really good one.

  2. Simple machinery, I love it!

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