Black Walnuts the easy way

Left: hard-won harvest. Right: instant gratification

A bag of ready-to-eat black walnuts? It feels like cheating.

Mom told me she’d seen black walnuts for sale at Kroger, but I didn’t believe her.
Who would go to the trouble of gathering
and hulling
and washing
and drying
and cracking
and excavating black walnuts to sell retail?
And who would buy them? Our native walnuts are an acquired taste: they are wangy and wild compared to the polite, almost buttery walnuts most of us know.

But then, she showed up at my door with this bag, and I was thrilled. Yes, I look forward to the seasonal pleasures of foraging for and fooling with wild black walnuts, but I will not say nay to this instant, E-Z version. It takes an awful lot of time and effort to process a wheelbarrow of fragrant, green baseballs into even a handful of edible crumbs.

I was even more thrilled when I found out this brand of walnuts—most of the 12 to 15 million pounds or so—is grass-roots, crowd-sourced every fall. They come from the Missouri company Hammons Black Walnuts, which operates 215 hulling stations across the country (five of these are in Tennessee). What this means is that anyone within pickup-truck range of a hulling station can forage for black walnuts (at home, around town, wherever they have permission), haul them whole to a station, and get paid by the pound. And this means that the zillions of neighborhood walnuts which usually end up in storm drains or bagged by yard crews or thrown into the trash could be used: sold, eaten, adored. Even the shells are converted to industrials uses like filters and abrasives.

Apparently, for some Hammons families, it is a yearly tradition to gather walnuts and take them to the hullers. They get time together, time outside, time spent gathering nature’s harvest and making it useful to others, and they get extra cash.

My own family knows first-hand most locals don’t want what falls from their own trees. When we are spotted in the neighborhood pilfering walnuts from sidewalks, homeowners have asked (begged) us to walk into the yard and take them ALL.

I’ve just written a post for the Tennessee Native Plant Society about this, in which I ask if anyone with a farm or orchard might be interested in starting a hulling station. You never know. I don’t care what company runs it, as long as the walnuts are put to good use. Tennessee needs more hulling stations, and it especially needs one right here, near Nashville, near me.

The usual grocery store walnuts are Juglans regia, but our native walnuts are Juglans nigra. I’ve written about them at Look Around, here (Black Walnut Log: Food and Dye)