John A. Vance, Environmental Eng. Tech., & Outdoor Writer,
Member: Outdoor Writers of Canada, et al. 'Pro ' Outfitter/Guide (
emeritus) with 40 years - as a pro in the field!
WILD HICKORY & WALNUTS
This aspect of the 'wild thing' seems to be a dying
outdoor activity, and this is truly a shame!
The flavor of these savory wild nuts is superlative,
and no domesticated nuts that I know of rival their excellent wild
Nuts are a very high source of protein, and many vegans regard the protein of nuts to be as high quality as that of red meat. NOT being a vegan, myself, I just won't go there - but the fact remains - these wild nuts are good for us - and are the epitome of 'organic' in most cases!
Both these nuts ( walnuts and hickory nuts) are excellent to eat as a quick snack, and you'll be the only one's on the block doing so. You will have the always refreshing 'outdoor outing' that necessarily goes along with your countryside sojourns whilst hunting/gathering these wild healthful treats.
The fall, with pungent crisp air, dazzling panoramic colors, can easily melt away any of the 'life's pressures' and stresses that one may be experiencing.
My Grandma Vance around Christmas time, would have me crack hickory and walnuts for their meat, and would use them in her Christmas cooking. Homemade butter tarts with either wild hickory or wild walnuts are something that should be tasted/experienced by all. Hickory nuts are sweet, and wild black walnuts have that characteristic wild 'ZIP/ZING' associated with most wild species. In cookies, cakes and the like, there are no better.
These wild free-bees make the 'store-bought' nuts taste weak and pale in comparison to their wild brethren.
WHERE TO GATHER!
Most of the northerly, and central to eastern states, as well as into Canada, in southwestern Ontario, and portions of southern Quebec host both wild hickory, walnut, and to a lesser extent, butternut trees.
Simply go out into the country a short way, and start looking for these trees. You'll most often find them in fence rows along farm fields, and walnuts can even be found in many back-yards of those living in the suburbs. Most people that have such trees will usually GLADLY allow you to gather them, regarding these nuts as much of a nuisance around their yards.
Be aware that I'm talking about SHAGBARK HICKORY TREES. There is a cousin to the shagbark hickory, which is the smooth bark hickory, sometimes called a bitter hickory. This 'bitter' hickory is aptly named - the nuts are bitter. See the self explanatory picture here to see what a shagbark hickory looks like. The long shards of peeling bark is the dead giveaway. Black walnuts are so common in the areas where they grow, that I need not even describe these trees here.
If these trees are on private land, best ask permission before gathering the nuts. Most rural folk will not only gladly let you harvest your bounty, but will likely barely cast you an upturned gaze to boot. If you have found a particularly good tree, be sure to go back to the landowner just before Christmas with a sample of your processed wares - this'll ensure your future permissions there.
WHEN TO GATHER!
You'll have to be quick to gather these fine flavored gems - the squirrels also know of their excellence, and work non-stop to store them away against winter's onslaught.
Usually these nuts start to drop soon after the first of autumns (killing)frosts, which may vary slightly from location to location. Generally though, the second week in October is a great time to get out gathering nuts. If you try this a time or two, as a family outing - it'll soon become a welcome and family tradition, something definitely different - and a rewarding fresh air exercise. And you'll experience a lot of other outdoors happenings too, very often items of interest for the very young and inquisitive upcoming minds of your family. Clean, wholesome, inexpensive entertainment at its North American BEST!
EQUIPMENT YOU'LL NEED!
Nut gathering equipment is frugal, a six quart basket, or an old bucket will be fine, along with at least a half-dozen plastic grocery bags is all that's needed for gathering these nuts. Hickory nuts are a bit smaller than walnuts. If you are using a family car, you might like to place a piece of plastic on the trunk bottom. Hickory nuts are quite dry, unless of course it's raining, but walnuts can be quite juicy, and this juice will stain nearly anything it comes in contact with.
With this in mind, one may wish to use a pair of rubber gloves for gathering walnuts. I suppose that somewhere there may be a person/persons whom may be allergic to the walnut juice, but this will be an exception rather than the rule. Even though walnut juice may stain you, it shouldn't hurt you at all - but as a precaution, wear rubber gloves. Having said all this - wear a pair of your 'grubby' clothes, in case you get a bit of the walnut juice on your clothing. Eventually, after many washing the stain may come out - but it'll take a long time to do so, once the stain is present - just wear old clothing - that's all.
NUT GATHERING TIPS!
Not all nut trees bear nuts every year, often they'll only produce any quantity of nuts every second year. If you find a tree that has only a few nuts on it/under it, then remember this location - and return next year - it'll likely be loaded.
I like to go out in the morning, and make a 'day' of nut gathering, doing hickory nuts one day, and walnuts another day - but be opportunistic - if you find both hickory & walnuts on an outing -well - just do it! I urge you NOT to mix the nuts up, though - keep them separate!
Keep walnuts and hickory nuts separate though - don't mix them! They take slightly different drying time and handling procedures.
If the nut trees are on private land - ask permission - but I've found lots of these trees on road property, and trees out so far away from any houses that I was sure I wouldn't' be disturbing anyone's peace - and just went ahead and 'did my thing' - with no problem.
After processing the nuts, store them in a cool dry place with ventilation - cardboard boxes, jute bran sacks are fine - NEVER STORE THE NUTS - EVEN AFTER DRY - IN PLASTIC - THEY NEED TO 'BREATH' - OR THEY MAY GO MOLDY! Usually an attic is too hot and too dry to store nuts. A good dry basement is fine, as long as it isn't damp.
2012 Update! New for 2012 are my audio Cds on a variety of topics including both open water fishing and ice fishing. Topics such as ( Open water) Walleye Fishing Inland Lakes: Walleye Fishing Rivers;
Walleye Fishing Precambrian Lakes: and a host of others....(Ice Fishing) Ice Fishing For Everyone ( set of 2 Cds):
Ice Fishing for Bluegill, Crappie & Perch: Ice Fishing for Walleye: Ice Fishing For Seniors...and a host of others...
Also new for 2012 – come to my neck-of-the-woods here on the North Shore of Georgian Bay for a variety of workshops – including ice fishing workshops! We have a clean & tidy campground here with access onto the Serpent River which flows into Georgian Bay ( approx a half mike away). So you can bring your own boat if you wish. They have RV hookup as well as tenting and cabins. There is also a small mom/pop Motel ( with Kitchenette Facilities of you wish) here for those not into camping.
Bring along your entire family – or fishin' buds and learn while on your holidays. My prices are reasonable, and I'll tailor a workshop to your schedule on most fishing and ice fishing subjects. Email me for pricing of my various workshops and details as well as any other questions you may have.
We also have superb ATV trails here, and a wonderful night sky-scape – campfire smoke – a true northern experience...John A. Vance
If you wish to contact me - I'm here for you - do drop me an email. Be sure to use a 'relative' title in the subject line of the email - I use a spam blocker( don't you?) - and so you need to be topic specific!
And - enjoy!