A Nutty Story

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

Ready to begin their hunt for hickory nuts.

Ready to begin their hunt for hickory nuts.

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

Cracking the nuts open is a job when hickory nut hunters arrive home.

Cracking the nuts open is a job  for hickory nut hunters when they arrive at home.

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

That's the way to open a hickory nut.

That’s the way to open a hickory nut.

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,

If squirrels happen to be above in the tree, they will let hickory nut gatherers know thy're not happy to see their nuts go.

If squirrels happen to be above in the tree, they will let hickory nut gatherers know they’re not happy to see their nuts go.

“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.

This container is not nearly as large as a bushel.

This container is not nearly as large as a bushel.

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

Just enough for a batch of fudge.

Just enough for a batch of fudge.

hope you enjoyed this journey with us on ShirlandYou.

Another delicious way to use hickory nuts.

Another delicious way to use hickory nuts.

12 thoughts on “A Nutty Story

  1. We don’t have hickory nuts, but we do have 1 tree in our back yard and 1 tree in our front yard and they are both black walnut trees. The story with them is pretty similar – very hard to open, but extremely delicious! We haven’t done much with them through the years because they are just too hard to harvest. And, yes, lots of squirrels!

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    • Hi Debbie: I know what you mean about the walnuts and I believe while handling them, they stain the hands very badly. Funny, the squirrels seem to have no problem with them. Maybe they were meant for them!!. Just talked about you this morning with your mother. I hear it is very warm weather there in Iowa. Thanks so much for writing. I love knowing you are reading shirlandyou.

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  2. Hickory nuts are my favorite. They are the best in cookies, I have 4 black walnut trees left and this year are really producing abundantly. I can no longer gather ,crack or pick nuts but they are the best. it takes hours of cleaning them .putting them in airtight jars to freeze them for baking or a small amount occasionally as a treat. The hickories are the best.. The squirrels tell me when the crop is good. and they are busy getting them and storing them when the cats let them alone..
    another good nut for baking is the butternut. They are much easier to clean . Some people call them the white walnut. Very good for baking . I grew up eating all 3. Mostly butternut and hickory. you must be careful not to mistake the shellbark hickory and the pig hickory for eating.

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    • Interesting comments, Harriet. Now you’ve got me ready to research the pig hickory….Hadn’t heard of that. How wonderful to put them away in the freezer and have them throughout the year. What a treat! Thanks for writing.

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  3. Hmmmmm, now you are making me want to try hickory nuts! I don’t remember if I had them as a kid or not, did I? That is so funny what Grandpa rigged up. He was pretty ingenious wasn’t he? I DO remember stepping on chestnuts with bare feet. That hurt!

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  4. if you hurry, there may be some left outside. You’ve brought up another nut, the chestnut. I never got use to eating them, but many like them roasted, especially around Christmas time.. You’re right, don’t go bare foot around a chestnut tree. Their outer shells are covered with pickers. Thanks for writing Janine, it’s always fun hearing from you.,

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  5. I caught one of the horses eating the Hickory nuts the other day, first he ate the nut itself and then the hull. I wondered why they didn’t lie around the pasture, I guess they’re eating them. We have quite a few trees lining our pasture. Black walnuts on the other hand are poison to horses and can cause them to founder. I know the wood of the hickory tree is hardwood apparently and used to build this house I’m living in.

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    • Hi Tilly: So a horse’s jaws are strong enough to crack nuts? They are delicious so I can understand why they would eat them and the hulls must be flavorful, too. I did read that black walnuts are poisonous to horses. Glad your on top of this situation. Interesting that your home is built with hickory lumber. Years ago, I believe, chestnut was used a lot. That was before they died from the blight. Thanks for writing, Tilly. Your input always adds a special touch to shirlandyou.

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  6. I know exactly what you are talking about, when you mention hickory nuts. I don’t think that I have eaten one of them, but I have cracked them open as a kid. My car has a small dent in to top of it, where a hickory nut fell on it, as I drove down the road. (It just missed hitting and possibly shattering my sun roof). These nuts sure bring back some good memories for you and your family!! Almonds are one of my favorites and my parrots also enjoy them. Almonds have lots of protein and calcium in them, but I am not sure about the nutrition in hickory nuts. I wonder if a parrot would like a hickory nut or if they are even good for parrots?Thanks for such an interesting blog!! Hickory nuts on the ground are surely a sign of Fall, and I hope that lots of them on the ground doesn’t mean a long and cold winter! 🙂

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    • The dangers of the hickory nut. You experienced it! We just put a hickory nut in Pedro’s (our parrot’s) cage and he’s acting scared of it. I have a feeling he won’t even try it. He is such a baby, and very suspicious of anything new. I thought, Colleen, you might have shelled them with your grandmother, here in our area. Take care, and thanks for writing.

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  7. We had a hickory nut tree at the Sweet Valley house. It is no longer there as it was removed when I was a child. I loved it while it lasted.

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  8. I wonder how often hickory trees are harvested for lumber? I believe they are very slow growing. Ours look about 130 feet tall. Needless to say they have been here for a very long time. I’ve read where the Shagbark hickory nut is the tastiest there are. Your comment is rather short compared to others. I hope you are well, Karen.

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