Sunday, September 16, 2012

Black Walnuts: Only a Hammer Will Suffice

I hefted my trusty rock hammer.

Most people use a standard hammer, but I have a special bond with this one.  It's been with me since I studied geology in college, and there are so many memories attached to it.

Using my rock hammer actually ends up working quite nicely, since the weight of the top is so much greater at the point where it comes into contact with its target than on the 'pick' side.  That helps propel it downward in a rather fluid motion.  Yes, the same can be said about a standard hammer, but the shape of the head on this one increases the aforementioned fluidity.

Yep.  I love my rock hammer.

Yesterday I talked about the importance of curing the walnuts prior to opening them.  Today, though, it's time to break apart my black walnuts and reap the treasures from within.


First, I got all of my supplies together.

rock hammer, bowl, and bag of cured black walnuts
Bag of cured black walnuts, rock hammer, and a bowl

You're probably wondering why I've decided to use a rock hammer to crack open a simple nut.  That's what nutcrackers are for, right?

Well, black walnut shells are amazingly strong.  Using a nutcracker would get you absolutely nowhere... except maybe back to the store to buy a new one after it breaks.  To give you some idea of their strength, I discovered one woman that gathers all of her fallen black walnuts into a plastic bag, places the bag on the street, then slowly drives over them to remove the outer husks prior to the curing process.

Ok, let me repeat that one more time, for anyone that missed it...

She drives over them!!!  
::insert shocked expletive here::

Yep.  They're strong.

So I use a rock hammer.  Fitting, right?

You don't have to be delicate about it.  See, with a black walnut, there is no way you're going to get 'walnut halves' from a nice break.  Black walnuts are compartmentalized, with the nut growing in a few different chambers.  The closest you'll get to that is a shape that (in my mind) resembles a molar that's been pulled from your mouth.

Beautiful imagery right?  But seriously... that's what it resembles:

black walnut shape is similar to a pulled molar tooth

Before I make black walnuts sound too horrid, though, I should point out that as the shells are cracked open, sometimes, if cracked open just right, you get a rather beautiful result.

heart shaped center of a black walnut

There's no way you can deny that this resembles a heart.  Amazing, isn't it?

I actually broke open only about 7 or 8 of them, saving the rest for later.  In the shell, they can actually keep for about a year if kept cold, so I wasn't too worried about getting it all done immediately.

I do, however, need to get this done so that I can see how many have viable fruit.  A few of the shells revealed fruits that didn't make it to their full potential, and were a dry and withered mess.

dessicated, nonviable black walnut
Those papery bits that you see are actually the
nut that didn't 'make it'.  

In the end, those few nuts that were harvested with my rock hammer gave me approximately 1/4 cup of viable fruit, which isn't bad when you consider that not all of them produced an adequate nut.

Upon a taste test, I discovered that it's very different from a standard walnut.  Black walnuts have a strong, fruity taste.  To me, it seems to have a hint of apple to it, golden delicious apple, if you really want me to be specific.

Very interesting...

And rather appealing, if you ask me!

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