Collecting Hickory Nuts & How to Use Them
This will be our second autumn season on this farm, and we noticed the first spring we moved in that there were many remnants of nuts around the farm in our small timber area. While we are not foragers, it has been something I wanted to take advantage of once we could identify which types of trees we had growing. Last autumn I had it on my list to collect nuts at the first sign of them dropping and discovered that I was too late… the squirrels and other wild critters had taken advantage of collection time, and I had sadly missed out. But this year, we were successful! My dad and our neighbor walked around the back last week and discovered that we, indeed, had a hickory tree with nuts ready for collecting. Hooray!
Hickory nuts are the most calorie-dense wild plant food you can find. One ounce of hickory nut meat is 193 calories! Isn’t that amazing? The Native Americans named the nuts and would boil the meats down to create a hearty porridge. It makes sense; with their high fat levels they make an excellent source of protein and filling meal when foraged food is a main part of your diet. I had never eaten a hickory nut before, but was happy to learn that they are perfectly edible fresh and raw right out of the shell. We cracked one open to make sure that we had what we thought - hickory nuts have a green-brown husk, a double nut shell, and a multi chambered inner nutshell much like a walnut. They are sweet, rich, oily, and pecan-flavored. The smell is incredible! I am so grateful to have been able to forage this incredible find.
When collecting nuts, there are a few things you should keep in mind. The nuts are heavy and oily. If you are out foraging, it would be wise to bring a heavy duty sack, bucket, or crate to gather them. Simply check the ground around the trees for nuts that are intact, though it is fine if they have a slight crack. Remove husks as you collect them; they will compost back into the ground around the tree. An ideal nut will have a brown-grey husk and the interior shell should be rich, chestnut brown.
Once you have harvested your nuts, it is time to either prepare them for eating or storage. Separate the wheat from the chaff; this means place the nuts in a bucket of water and discard any that float. These have rotten nut meats and are not edible.
Lay the good nuts in the sun or in a cool, dry area at home and dry completely. This can take a few days. Once dry, they will store for up to a month (possibly longer) in a place with good air flow. The meats can also be removed from the shell and frozen for several months!
uses for hickory nuts
Hickory Nut Cake with Maple Bourbon Frosting
Hickory nut syrup (boil nuts, water, and sugar to make a simple syrup)
Hickory nut oil (after boiling nuts for about half an hour and letting the liquid cool, fat will rise to the top. This is the oil and can be separated)
Hickory nut butter (Cooled nut oil is the butter! Place in a container with an airtight seal and store in the fridge. Spread on roasts for flavoring.)
Hickory Nut Pie
Roast for 10 minutes in a 200 degree oven and eat
Substitute for walnuts of pecans in any recipe
I ended up turning these particular nuts into a cake. It takes a lot of nuts to get enough, and be sure that when you crack them you are careful to remove any remnants of the shell. They hurt to bite into! I was happy to learn that our dear neighbors and friends over at The Barn had hickory nut cake for their wedding and enjoy it on their anniversaries. How precious is that?! Maybe a tradition to continue for our wedding. Good thing I am making the cake!