What do I do with my black walnuts?

This year, the squirrels having seen fit to show mercy, I find myself with a couple dozen walnuts that I’ve picked up off the ground. I’d like to eat them, of course, but I need to resolve a few issues first, and that’s where you guys come in.

So a couple of questions:

  1. How do I know if they’re ripe? I just picked them up off the ground today, and it’s mid-August here in New England, and possibly even elsewhere. The husks of some of them give a little beneath my thumb, but it’s not like they’re soft.

  2. If they’re ripe, how do I get the husks off without permanently staining my hands a wonderful Vandyke brown?

  3. What do I do with the things after I’ve husked them? How do I store them, I mean.

  4. Can black walnuts be eaten raw, or do you have to blanch or parboil them or some such?

Somebody from Ohio ought to be able to give me good advice.

Haven’t had any since I was a kid (60 years). You can’t avoid the stain easily, maybe rubber gloves, I dunno’. We called them butternuts, because of the flavor. We just cracked them, not an easy job, and ate them right from the shell, what we could salvage after the cracking that is. The things are like cast iron.
I lived in NE Ohio as a kid.

I am interested as well. We have several mature black walnut trees and I have never even eaten one nut. They are a little imposing.

My aunt collect about a bushel of black walnuts for use a year.

  1. You leave them until they drop.
  2. The large husk will turn a dark brown to black.
  3. You can now remove the mushy outer shell, that will stain everything it contacts. We used an old hand crank corn sheller.
  4. You can let them sit in water a couple days to clean off the remaining husk. Let them dry in the sun.
  5. You will need to let them sit one to two months to finish maturing.
  6. Crack and pick the nuts.

Walnut juice from the husk was used to disguise people as a darker person for various reasons.

I recommend you find a shagbark hickory and save those nuts. They are the best nutmeat grown in the northern USA. They can cross with pecans in the middle states and you have hican trees. They are ripe when the outer shell easily falls from the nut. You need to let these age about two months before they are ready to have the meat removed. They grow thick at marsh and highland junctions. You will often find hazelnut shrubs by them. Be careful not to gather bitternut. They look like hickory nuts. You will know by the taste, so sampling a few immature nuts before you gather them is wise. The hickory won’t be normal tasting, but they won’t have the awful taste of a bitternut. Hickory nut brownies, yum.

The method I’ve always read about to hull black walnuts without staining your hands is to put them in a garbage bag and run over them repeatedly with your car

Shell them with a hammer. The nut meats freeze well. Black walnut ice cream! MMMMM!

They are an acquired taste, I guess. You know that sharp smell the hulls have? (That smell is part of the wonderful aroma of an autumn meadow that borders woods!) The nut has a bit of that tang, as well as that buttery texture A.R. Cane mentioned.

Butternuts are a species to themselves. They look like elongated black walnuts. I’ve only seen two of them in my life, and one was on grandpa’s farm. They have been devastated by disease. I see the alternative name is white walnut.


Wild hazelnuts are not worth picking. Most will be eaten by worms, but you can get them without. You end up with meats the size of peas.

My grandmother puts her black walnuts on the driveway and runs them over with the car (sans garbage bag).

But, as far as grandmas go, she’s as old-school as they come.

Everything you always wanted to know about walnuts but were afraid to ask!


My family owns a nutcracker like the one in the pictures. It’s better than a hammer or a rock, because the little hood you pull over it as you crack the nut prevents the shell from scattering in all directions. The design is very old, my uncle had one fifty years ago, and we got a new one, from the place listed in the website, just a few years ago.

This recipe is from my maternal grandmother’s family. She’s 102, and can’t remember when they didn’t have it, so it’s old. Grandma doesn’t know where the name comes from, but it doesn’t resemble Boston Cream Pie in the least, being more like fudge. Nuts other than black walnuts could be used, but the family has never used anything else, it’s tradition.

Boston Cream

3 cups sugar
1 cup clear corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup chopped black walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a heavy saucepan combine sugar, syrup and cream. Bring to a boil and cook till the mix reaches the soft ball stage, about 236 degrees Farenheit. Remove from heat and beat long and hard as the mix cools and thickens. You can beat by hand if you have a strong arm, or use a heavy-duty mixer. The mix should become paler in color, almost an off white. The beating is the secret. Just before it’s too thick to spread blend in vanilla and black walnuts, then spread in a buttered pan. When cool cut into small pieces to serve.

If you use the crank corn sheller, do wear protective goggles. The outer husks are corrosive and can cause permanent eye damage.

Thanks, all, for the advice. Even got a recipe out of it!

Not much help for this years’ crop, but I picked some immature walnuts in early July and pickled them - you might want to try it next year - it’s a messy and lengthy process and I haven’t yet tasted the end product, but it looks promising and by all accounts, they’re a delicacy.
Details here:

I saw that when looking from the boat link. How are you supposed to eat it. Does the inner shell rubberize? Best of luck in the attempt at eating it.

I don’t remember the process for drying and shelling them–though I know that my mother bought a special black walnut cracker with a very long handle. Once you’ve got them open, though, I would have thought it was obvious to anyone that they’re supposed to go in cookies, either oatmeal or shortbread.

Pickled or eaten raw, my foot.

Shifting your nuts from IMHO to Cafe Society.

Send me the husks and leaves to make black fabric dye.

I actually have a few black walnut trees in the yard myself, I just haven’t bothered getting out there and starting up a dye lot. Mostly because I want to do it with silk and I don’t know a good place to get a bunch of undyed silk thread. If I’m going to start boiling (all right, not boiling) interesting chemicals and black walnut leaves and husks, I want to make a LOT of black stuff. Apparently to get it really colorfast I should wash it in lye. Yeah, I’m looking forward to that…

I look at a few plants that make some nice colors and think what a waste I don’t have something to dye. The yellow from california poppies is intense.

I can’t vouch for buying from these people as I am on a yarn diet, but I have been looking at them as a source for tussah silk, and they have other silk suitable for dyeing too.


That does look tempting.

And I’d be tempted to get unspun silk if every attempt I’d ever made at spinning hadn’t ended in TRAGEDY.

My dyeing instructor mentioned she’d accidentally left a jar of yarn dyeing in black walnut for something like three months before she found it again. After scraping out the mold, the thread she had inside was pure black.

Why they gotta be BLACK walnuts?


We always just used a bench vise to crack black walnuts. (Of course, we already had bench vises, so they were readily available. YMMV if you don’t already have them.)

Depending on how rural you are, you might want to be careful on how you store your black walnuts. Last year, my dad collected a bunch of black walnuts and was temporarily keeping them in a bucket outside under the eaves of the house…and a black bear wandered by and ate most of them.