Nut Know-how


Modern Pioneer - - Contents - By Ja­son Houser

The keys to gath­er­ing and en­joy­ing pecans, wal­nuts and hick­ory nuts

As a child, I re­mem­ber sit­ting in my grandpa’s garage and watch­ing him take a ham­mer to hick­ory nuts. At the time, I had no idea what he was do­ing, and when I tried to be like him, I al­ways ended up mash­ing my fin­gers with the ham­mer as the lit­tle hick­ory nut slipped away at the very last mo­ment.

For many years, I never had the de­sire to try my luck with hick­ory nuts. As I be­came more self-suf­fi­cient—catch­ing, hunt­ing and gath­er­ing food for my fam­ily—i be­came more in­ter­ested in crack­ing hick­ory nuts, and any other type of nut I could get my hands on.

As an adult, I’ve com­pletely em­braced the en­joy­able (and ben­e­fi­cial) pas­time of for­ag­ing for nuts. I gather enough hick­ory nuts ev­ery year to net sev­eral gal­lons of nut­meat. I share some with my fam­ily and friends, but most of my haul goes into baked desserts. It sure is a lot cheaper, and more fun, than buy­ing nuts from a gro­cery store. I sus­pect that you’ll think so too once you know what to look for.

“I gather enough hick­ory nuts ev­ery year to net sev­eral gal­lons of nut­meat.”

Two Va­ri­eties of Hick­ory Nuts

There are two va­ri­eties of hick­ory nuts: large and small. The larger va­ri­ety of nut—about the size of an ob­long golf ball with its outer hull re­moved—is of­ten eas­ier to find undis­turbed by squir­rels due to its thick shell. It’s a lot more work for a squir­rel to gnaw into them than to cut through the thin­ner-shelled, smaller va­ri­ety. Of course, that thick shell makes it a lit­tle tougher for hu­mans to crack them as well, but it’s a sim­ple mat­ter to get a big­ger ham­mer, and the re­wards are greater be­cause there’s more nut­meat in­side.

Re­gard­less of which va­ri­ety you find, large or small, it takes time to crack enough hick­ory nuts and pick out the meat to fill a Ma­son jar. But, once the crack­ing is com­plete, you can do the pick­ing while you watch a ball game on TV.

There are many ways to crack hick­ory nuts. I set the nut on top of an anvil and use a ham­mer to get to the meat in­side. A rock or con­crete chunk work as well. You can also buy heavy-duty nut­crack­ers de­signed specif­i­cally for very hard nuts, and they work just fine, too.

Hick­ory nut for­ag­ing is an outdoor ac­tiv­ity that al­most any­one can do, and it’s a good way to get the whole fam­ily out­doors on a beau­ti­ful fall day. It’s es­pe­cially fun for kids, be­cause they can make a game out of see­ing who can find the most, or try to toss them into a bucket

from a dis­tance. If you haven’t tried hick­ory nuts in cook­ies or ba­nana bread, you’ll be pleas­antly sur­prised by the amount of fla­vor they add. I also like to use them in cin­na­mon rolls and in cakes and zuc­chini bread.

Pecans Aplenty

Be­sides hick­ory nuts, I also gather and crack my share of pecans. As a child, my mother made the best pe­can pie from nuts we gath­ered, and to­day, she’ll still make her delicious pie for spe­cial oc­ca­sions. Now that I’ve got­ten older, I fol­low her recipe to make my own pe­can pies a cou­ple of times a month. Some­times, I even sub­sti­tute the pecans with hick­ory nuts. You’ll no­tice a small change in the fla­vor, but a hick­ory nut pie is hard to beat.

Pe­can trees are na­tive to the Lower Mis­sis­sippi Val­ley (Lou­i­si­ana Gulf Coast up through south­ern Illi­nois, west into east­ern Texas and Ok­la­homa). They like rivers and creek bot­toms, and the Mis­sis­sippi River and its many trib­u­taries pro­vide ideal con­di­tions. Also, few peo­ple know that pecans are the largest mem­ber of the hick­ory fam­ily of trees.

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