Our door bell rang and there stood a stranger with a unusual request. “May I pick up your Shellbark nuts?” We knew this time of the year we oftentimes have people stopping along
the road that runs adjacent to our property, for the purpose of gathering hickory nuts. But Shellbark? Were they one and the same? The stranger was a woman who said she is from Lancaster and that’s what they are called there.
“Enjoy,” we said, as she stepped from our front porch.
Not many people forage for hickory nuts in the Autumn, because when you do gather a pail or box full of them they are nigh to impossible to crack open. We’ve often had them break to smithereens and then you had
no choice but to pick out tiny pieces of the meat. Hickory nuts are native to most areas of eastern North America. But before you can get to the small, tan nut, the outer hull must be broken away. This doesn’t take as hard a whack to open as the inter-shell. Sometimes it falls off by itself. One reason why passersby like gathering them at our place is that they have fallen on macadam and most of the outer shells are already broken away. They are also clearly visible. Other places may require a search for them in tall grass.
I did some research and found that there are shellbark hickory nuts and that they are larger then the shagbark hickory, more the size of a walnut. We live on “Shagbark Lane, (named by my husband’s father, Fred Updyke), because it is lined by huge, shaggy barked trees which produce these hickory nuts. My
husband, Burl, remembers how one year, his dad rigged up a trough under the wheel of a jacked-up car and when the wheel spun, it cracked the nuts that lined the trough. This is not a recommended way to do it today, besides, I just learned that if the hickory nut is struck, with a hammer, in just the right spot it will fracture along clean lines almost every time.
Hickory nuts are rarely found on grocery shelves, so they are special treats some people will never experience. Others make an autumn trip to the country hoping to be able find them. They, the nuts, do not lay around for very long, however, because they are favorite food for the squirrel population. This does look like a good year for them. When I commented on how plentiful they are, my husband said,
“God has provided a plentiful supply for the squirrels who may be facing a long, cold winter.” There’s a weather forecast for you!
I must insert a joke that I heard recently. It’s about a squirrel who told his psychiatrist, “I just heard that you are what you eat. That’s when I realized that I was nuts.” So much for that!
Hickory nuts are not mentioned in the Bible, but Pistachio nuts and almonds are. Check out Genesis 43:11. In that verse they are described as some of the best fruits of the land. Hickories provide us with wild, delicious and nutritious food.
When my husband was a kid. He remembers being told that if he gathered a bushel of hulled, hickory nuts, they would be sold at the farmers market and he, and his parents would go to see a Gene Autry movie. And, they did! Not only did they enjoy a movie but also a meal for the three of them.Growing up, I was more of a town girl, so I missed those kinds of experiences.
Well, we didn’t see our visitor again so we hope she gathered a good amount of nuts, at least enough to add to a batch of fudge. Do you have any hickory nut memories? You’re invited to share them right here. I hope you are not among those who have not had the pleasure of tasting a hickory nut. It’s worth the time and work it takes to get them. I also
hope you enjoyed this journey with us on ShirlandYou.