Gathering and enjoying hickory nuts

As a child, I remember sitting in my grandpa’s garage watching him take a hammer to hickory nuts. At that time, I had no idea what he was doing and when I tried I always ended up smacking my fingers with the hammer as the little hickory nut slipped out of my fingers at the last moment.

For many years, I never had the desire to try my luck with hickory nuts. As I became more self-sufficient and preferred to supply food to my family that I either shot, caught or gathered, I became more interested in cracking hickory nuts, and any other types I could get my hands on.

Hickory trees are just about everywhere. Most people don’t take the time to gather the nuts and don’t realize what they’re missing.

I pick up enough hickory nuts every year to net several gallons of hickory nut meat. I share with my family and friends, but most of them go into desserts I bake. It is cheaper and more enjoyable than buying them.

It takes time to crack and pick enough edible meat to fill a Mason jar. But once the cracking is done, you can do the picking while you’re watching TV so you’re not really losing time so much as multi-tasking.

Hickory nut hunting is a fun activity and a good way to get the entire family out in the woods on a beautiful fall day. It’s especially fun for kids, as they can make a game out of seeing who can find the most or trying to toss them into a bucket from a distance.

If you haven’t tried hickory nuts in banana bread or cookies, you might be pleasantly surprised at the flavor they add. I also use them on cinnamon rolls, in cakes and zucchini bread.

Before you can enjoy the meat inside hickory nuts, you’ll have to crack and shell them. There are many ways to crack them. I place the nut on top of an anvil and use a hammer to get to the meat inside. A rock or chunk of concrete serves the same purpose. You can also buy heavy duty nut crackers designed specifically for hard nuts.

You will want to use nut picks to make the job of picking the meat out easier. Be careful not to stab yourself with the pick. Don’t expect to get halves every time you crack a nut – you will be disappointed if you do. You will mostly get quarters and smaller fragments with a few halves.

I try to keep the halves separate from the pieces, because I use the halves and larger pieces for pies and chop the small pieces for cake, cookies and breads. A quart-sized bowl of cracked nuts will yield a cup or two of nutmeats.

Storing the nutmeat is the final step. Plastic containers with tight-sealing lids or quality resealable freezer bags work well. The more airtight (and less air in the bag) the better. You can keep shelled nuts unrefrigerated in an airtight container for several weeks. If the container is left unsealed, the meat will become stale, dried out and tough. If you plan to use them soon, it’s best to keep them in the refrigerator in a sealed container. They can be kept for several months in this manner. For longer term storage, it is recommended shelled nuts be sealed and frozen.

Mom’s Hickory Nut/Pecan Pie

  • 1 9-inch unbaked pie shell
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 3 well-beaten eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups pecan or hickory nut halves

Preheat oven to 400 F. In medium bowl, mix sugar, corn syrup and melted butter. Add well-beaten eggs and nuts. Pour into prepared pie shell. Bake 10 minutes; reduce heat to 350 F and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown. Cool thoroughly before slicing.