Black Walnuts


Black walnut trees are native to West Virginia (and many other Midwest and east-central states), but we are particularly devoted around these parts. Exhibit A: The Black Walnut Festival, this weekend (and already in progress) in its 58th year in Spencer, West Virginia.

The trees are known for both their high quality wood and their nuts, but the nuts aren’t so commonly used these days, for a few reasons. Black walnuts are strong. Ask someone if they like black walnuts, and you’re likely to get a strong response–yes, or no. There’s usually not an I don’t care. Black walnuts call for an opinion. (Occasionally, there’s an I don’t know, but usually that’s from an outsider. If you live around here, you’ve tasted black walnuts.) A lot of people don’t like black walnuts. Today’s taste buds have been neutralized by chain grocery stores and box mixes. We expect everything to taste like cardboard.

Black walnuts are also expensive. (Quick example from Sam’s Club, one of the least expensive places to buy nuts: One pound black walnuts would run you $11.50 while one pound of “regular” walnuts is around $9. Walnuts in general aren’t cheap, and black walnuts are the priciest.) Black walnuts are free for the picking if you know where to find a tree–but they’re difficult and messy to shell. People today just don’t have the time or fortitude for it.

In the olden days, nut cake around here meant black walnut cake. And then there’s the black walnut cookies and black walnut ice cream. Black walnut fudge and black walnut candy. They had taste buds back then and they weren’t afraid of breaking open some nuts, so they got them for free.

Personally, I don’t like cardboard food and I do like black walnuts. I don’t want to pay for black walnuts, though, and why should I? I have black walnut trees on my farm. In fact, even if I didn’t have black walnut trees on my farm, they’re all over the public by-ways here from trees hanging over the roads. (In fact, some people suggest driving over black walnuts to break open the husks, so roadkill black walnuts aren’t a bad idea.)

I’ve never attempted to harvest black walnuts before, though they have been available and around, for free, since I moved to West Virginia. I’ve never been a huge fan of cracking any kind of nut. I am, however, very interested in “making hay” from what is available on my farm. There’s something especially satisfying about eating what nature provides freely, and it feels wasteful in a way to ignore the bounty. But do I have the fortitude to process the nuts?

I’m not sure!

But I decided to find out!

I can’t be trusted to identify a tree unless it has something obvious falling off of it, therefore I can tell you that this is a black walnut tree. It has black walnuts still hanging from it, and there are black walnuts on the ground below it. Ha. That’s my kind of positive identification!

In fact, I have a number of black walnut trees, but two of them are really easy to get to over in my field across the road. I took a bucket over there for a look-see and to gather.

This was my first real “outdoor activity” this week, and I’m still kinda sick, so I didn’t feel too badly about limiting myself to one bucket. The bucket got heavy, so I left it at one point and started gathering in my t-shirt.

Eventually, of course, I still had to carry the whole bucket home.

Black walnuts should be allowed to ripen on the tree. You can pick them up from the ground when they fall. The best ones are still green, with not too many dark spots.

The nuts shouldn’t be stored in the husks as this will ruin the flavor. Removing the husks is the (first) hard part, plus messy. There is an indelible dye in the husks that will stain your hands (and everything else). I’ve seen several suggestions for ways to break into the hull. I think the one I’m going to try involves hammering (and wearing gloves). This guy here seems to have a pretty good method using a hammer and a handy piece of metal used for hanging electrical conduit. After hulling, the nuts have to be washed, dried, cured, and cracked, so it’s a multi-step process.

I’ll report back after hulling as to whether or not the bucket will be going back for seconds!


  1. fowlers says:

    yum::::Black Walnut Divinity candy::to die for!! LOVE them::but thats alot of work! for a bag of nuts!!!!Good Luck

  2. Barefootingly Simple says:

    Here in Missouri walnut trees are about the only good tree we have! lol We too have a walnut festival in Stockton, MO. This year’s walnuts weren’t worth anything, but last year the price was $15 per 100lb of hulled walnuts. (to sell) I have been picking up walnuts for as long as I can remember. We now have those nifty walnut picker uppers that you roll on the ground. If you have any one with a huller set up you can usually take the walnuts and have them hulled free of charge.

    Oh and the hulls make great compost! So be sure to add them to your compost pile!!

    I don’t particularly like walnuts, but I will eat them because almost every holiday dessert has them in it. fudge, brownies,cakes, candy, etc…

  3. GA_in_GA says:

    I still love Mexican Wedding Cakes made with black walnuts. Wish I had a tree here!

    Don’t throw out those husks – they make a wonderful natural dye!

  4. woolylamb says:

    I second GA in GA! I have used walnut husks and the resulting browns are fabulous! No mordant is required, though if you want to change the color, you can add some iron to get a cool ilivey color. You could dye your home grown wool! :sheep:

  5. AsTheNight says:

    I have a black walnut tree in my yard and I decided to make use of the nuts G-d provided me one year. I followed all the instructions I was able to find, but I was never able to crack those nuts, not even with a hammer. I’m looking forward to learning how you do it. Good luck!

  6. twiggityNDgoats says:

    Years ago the “hullers” used to come to Spencer and folks would sell their walnuts.

  7. zshawn says:

    oh you are making me home sick! love black walnuts and buy them sometimes here in NY. also remember eating hickory nuts growing up in Roane Co.

  8. dropofkim says:

    Before you put hulls in your compost, read on it. I heard they produce a chemical that stunts your vegetables growth. There is so much to do with walnuts; oil pressed from the hull makes a great anti fungal, stain from the hulls looks great on wood, ground shell for soap pumice, etc…etc. LOTS of work though!

    • Suzanne McMinn says:

      Yes, I know the hulls are toxic and not to put them in compost. I doubt I will save them for dye or anything else, at least not this year. My first focus is on figuring out if I can process the nuts. There will be more next year if I want to go on with other things!

  9. ibpallets (Sharon B.) says:

    It’s so funny to see this post this morning. Black walnuts is on my to do list today.

    Walnuts have gone up in price. I was at Costco yesterday and bought a bag of regular walnuts. 3 lbs- $17.xx something. I have black walnut tress and they are all over the ground (the nuts- not the trees…LOL) Guess who is going to learn to love the taste of black walnuts? That would be me. I will be picking them up off of the ground today and starting the cleaning process.

  10. quiltinglines says:

    I just watched a Youtube video that said the hulls are very toxic even lethal to horses and could possibly make dogs sick too. We used to get a small number of them from a neighbor that had a tree. It was just enough to do a cake or two. Took forever to get the meat out of the shell! Love the flavor though. My mother used the leaves, scattered them under the bed, once when we got fleas in the house. Killed them off right away.

  11. SwissMiss says:

    This brings back memories (nightmares). You are so very right about the opinions, while I don’t care for cardboard food I can’t stand the taste and even the smell of black walnuts. Nothing worse at holiday meals than getting ready to take a big bite of yummy looking treat and getting a whiff of that black walnut smell. The hassles of getting the darn things out of the the shells and hulls are only offset by the fact people will pay good money for the nuts. My mom loved them, my dad pretended to not like them so he didn’t have to help with the hulling. Mom always wore heavy duty rubber gloves to hull and we never threw the hulls into the pastures to make sure the cows and horse didn’t get them. Our tree was along a field with no livestock access. I know mom used a hammer on the shells and I think one of dad’s wood chisels, which may be another reason dad wasn’t fond of harvesting our own walnuts. I don’t remember how she removed the husks, I do remember it was time consuming and usually done while we were at school to keep us from getting stained.
    I also know that tomatoes will not grow well close to a walnut tree or in soil from near a walnut tree.
    I am looking forward to hearing how you process them. While I won’t eat them I would harvest them again if the opportunity arose. Have fun.

  12. SwissMiss says:

    In thinking some more about hull removal it seems as if mom use to soak the walnuts in water in a bucket for a few days to soften the hulls.


  13. hoosiergal says:

    I have 15 boxes of “road kill” walnuts that I have picked up this fall. I do NOT wash the walnuts, I place them in boxes to dry. Sometime in November or December, will crack them open and dry some more. I love to pick the meat from the walnuts. OK, know I am nuts.
    But this is a good winter project for me. And I love to eat the black walnuts.
    Suzanne, you should receive a package in the mail in several days from me.

  14. OCHousewife says:

    Ohhhh…black walnuts. My mom LOVES them, as did my grandpa. My sister and I are in the “don’t like” category. Nothing like finding out the fudge has “those” walnuts in it. Ick! But, as we like to say, more for YOU!

  15. Merryment says:

    My dad was a black walnut freak! He used an old hand-cranked corn husker that he picked up an an auction to de-hull the walnuts. It worked like likety split. I spent many a fall afternoon with him helping husk his walnuts. He’d put the hulls along the fence row where he didn’t want any grass growing, since the jugalone in the husk keeps anything from growing (which is why nothing grows under a walnut tree. Don’t even bother trying). So maybe that cousin of yours can help you find an old corn husker somewhere, Suzanne. I think he can find anything! PS My dad’s favorite was chocolate brownies with black walnuts and a scoop of black walnut ice cream on top. Ymm!

  16. easygoinglady says:

    I came across this device from Pleasant Hill Grain that can be used to shell corn and hull walnuts

    I was considering getting this unit myself because a neighbor is going to let me glean corn after they mechanically harvest and also my son has black walnut trees in his back yard. Figured it might be worth the investment.

  17. whaledancer says:

    The neighborhood I grew up in, in SoCal, had been a walnut grove and all the vacant lots still had black walnut trees growing in them, so we had black walnuts free for the taking. I used to earn spending money by collecting and processing them and selling the nutmeats to the neighbors for holiday baking.

    If you’re going to process very many black walnuts, you’re going to want to invest in a black walnut cracker. Those puppies are HARD. I used to use my dad’s bench vice, but my uncle had a special nutcracker for macadamia nuts that worked well, too. You can whack it hard with a hammer, but you pulverize a lot of the nutmeats that way.

    We didn’t wash them after we ripped off the hull; we just let them dry for a couple of weeks and rubbed off any residue. Green walnut hulls make a great dye so you need to wear rubber gloves if you don’t want to stain your hands. Once the dried nuts were cracked we used a nut pick to remove the meats from the shell. It made a good occupation for autumn evenings while you watched TV.

    We also enjoyed pickled walnuts and walnut ketchup (in the old-fashioned meaning of ketchup as “sauce”; nothing to do with tomatoes), but for those you needed English walnuts, picked green before the shell forms.

  18. mjpeters says:

    We have orchards of English Walnuts here on California’s Central Coast, but because the root stock doesn’t do well, the English Walnut trees are grafted onto heartier Black Walnut root stock. When the tree is mature, there is a distinct difference in the girth of the two trunks, so that from a distance the walnut orchards look like a group of Victorian ladies wearing skirts with bustles. It always makes me laugh.

  19. WVSue says:

    When I was growing up we would spread out the walnuts under our house which was layered in sand. The sand was good for taking care of any stains that came from the hulls while drying out. After they were dry and crackly, we then used a hammer to crack them open. As we only used them for fudge because of their strong flavor it didn’t matter if they broke into bits and pieces. My mother would then store them in Mason jars and freeze the nuts until ready to use. A method that my husband and his family used for removing the hulls was to throw out the basket of gathered walnuts onto a graveled driveway and repeatedly drive back and forth over them. Of course they used the oldest truck they had as the “family car” had white walls and you sure didn’t want to get black walnut stains all over them!

  20. mamajhk says:

    I “found” a Black Walnut grove last fall while we were on one of our adventures and brought a bunch home. Well, removing the husks was a feat in it self and then hulling them was another event. Needless to say my hubby won’t even stop near a grove this year. It was one of those things that I can say”been there, done that, don’t want to do it again” thing. Once was enough for me.

  21. Linda Goble says:

    Black walnut trees bring back lots of memories. When us kids were bad my mom would tell us to get one of those branches and strip the leaves of an she would swat us with it. Boy do they sting. I guess we should of behaved more. LOL..My mom was such a good mom miss her to peaces….

  22. stacey3940 says:

    You probably already know this but black walnut is extremely poisonous to horses… not just the nut or husk but the tree if its cut in any way. If they are just left to grow they are fine but do not let anyone cut them (even a branch) if you have horses nearby. Also choke cherry trees we have in this area are bad in a pasture and they need to be cut down because its the leaves that are bad when they fall this time of year. Again I’m sure you have already been told this but I thought I’d mention it just incase. You have to watch if you are using wood shavings as bedding ever because if it has ANY walnut in it the horse can die very quickly and this is fresh in my mind because recently a horse boarding facility nearby apparently got a shipment of shavings with walnut in it quite a few of the horses died becuase of it.

  23. joeyfulnoise says:

    We live over the WV border in PA – we have lots of black walnut trees. I do not like them, but my dad loved them. We used to make the kids collect buckets to take down to him. He cracked his own and stored them in the freezer or refrigerator. However (and this is why I am commenting) please be careful and wear goggles. His last venture in cracking his own, a piece of shell flew up and scratched his eye. It was nasty – we took him from doctor to specialist. Eventually healed, but he lost his taste for black walnuts after that. So glad you are feeling better – I have missed your posts!

  24. joykenn says:

    I buy black walnuts via the mail since I never see them commercially in the area. Divinity with black walnuts, fudge with black walnuts–love, love love. They have such a distinctive flavor–nothing comes even close.

  25. woolylamb says:

    good heavens Suzanne, that should have been olivey color! Olive greenish, or olive khaki, depending on your water. And the brown of walnuts isn’t the same as the natural brown, so still worthwhile!

  26. wtrmllngirl says:

    We had a black walnut in our backyard in Falls Church, VA…I don’t really remember it clearly as it was cut down when I was itty bitty, but I most certainly DO remember still finding shells from those darn walnuts everywhere, even 20 years later! And as far as I know there weren’t any other trees in the vicinity, so they had to have been from our tree. Those things are indestructible…and VERY hard on bare feet! 😆

  27. gail says:

    If this has not already been posted. To remove black walnut hulls I put them in our graveled drive. Roll over them with your vehicle. Wear gloves to pick up the walnuts. Cure the walnuts by laying in a single layer. To crack them soak the nuts in warm water before cracking. I used a vice for years. My husband gave me a nice walnut cracker for my birthday and with it many times I get the nuts to crack in halves. Love black walnut meat ! I would not put the hulls in my compost bc of the chemical in them that inhibits growth of many plants. We have soaked the hulls and made our own walnut stain. Hope this is helpful :jackolantern: .

  28. Joell says:

    :happyflower: We have black walnuts on the back of our property, they are a mess when you have to mow around them. I usally try to rake them down to the edge of the woods. I do love picking up the walnuts after the hull is gone, I pick a big wooden bowl full and put a fat candle in the middle.
    I have friends that crack them bu putting them in a cloth bag and driving over them.

  29. easygoinglady says:

    Now this guy came up with a clever way to dehull the black walnuts….

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