Black Walnut Fruits

In case you ever wondered what a walnut fruit looks like before it’s husked, shelled and the nutmeats turned into pies and such, here you go. This picture is from a young tree in our backyard that is producing fruit for the first time and as such I was deeply confused as to what sort of thing it might be, but as it turns out the Internets had the answer. Oh, Internets. You always have everything.

72 Comments on “Black Walnut Fruits”

  1. Just be careful: the nuts will also stain the bajeezus out of anything they touch once they start falling, especially feet and concrete.

  2. Oh but those nutmeats can turn into a mess. Squirrels used to bring them onto our porch to crack them and leave stains all over. I didn’t really begrudge the squirrel their meal, but I wish they were better about cleaning up after themselves. Hopefully the animals that share your property will be more considerate. :)

  3. How to de-husk your black walnuts.

    1) Collect your walnuts.

    2) Ideally let the walnuts sit until the husks turn black.

    3) Place walnuts in a large brown paper grocery bag.

    4) Take your walnuts outside to your driveway.

    5) Climb into your ultra hipsters mini-cooper.

    6) Drive over your bag of nuts several times with the a fore mentioned ultra hipsters mini-cooper.

    7) Place husked nuts on/in a old baking sheet or broiler pan. Roast in oven.

    You now have home grown roasted walnuts.

  4. What Zach said. Black walnut is used as a natural dye, and for good reason. We had huge walnut trees (suckers get _big_) in our yard when I was a kid, and the pulp is insidious.

    Also, walnuts and lawnmowers do NOT mix, unless you’re looking to design some sort of random-firing siege engine that breaks quickly. You’ll trash your lawnmower and maybe break a tibia (or window) in the process. My brother and I had to scout for walnuts and pitch them into an adjacent field so my dad could run his tractor/mower over the ground near the tree. I am sure Athena will enjoy this task every bit as much as we did, but it beats broken/bent blades and personal/property injury.

  5. I came along to comment on the lovely if ever-present black walnut stain, only to discover that the first three comments are about the exact same thing.

    I don’t mind nut stains on my concrete, though I quickly learned to take care when cleaning up the cracked husks.

  6. And leave us not to forget that a Black Walnut tree can be very toxic to other plants in the yard.

  7. Those damn trees grow almost like weeds in my CA neighborhood, especially along untended stretches like the abandoned rail right-of-way a few blocks away. The young ones sprout *very* fast.

  8. The local squirrel community will start hiding walnuts in the darndest places once they discover there’s a new source. I find them stashed on my motorcycle headlight mounting bracket occasionally. (It’s covered with a nylon tarp, so obviously it’s secure, right?)

    Cpierson is right about how big they get, although it takes decades. Unfortunately they’re an excellent example of “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” in a windstorm or ice storm.

    Was the tree a volunteer, or did somebody plant it?

  9. I love walnuts and the internets. I heard what I thought was a mouning dove make a noise I had never heard one make befor. A few days later I saw a dove that was bigger than a mouning dove and it had a ring around it neck. To the internet I went. Turns out it was a euraisan rock dove. An tntroduced species that is pretty much nation wide now. Thank you internets. To say nothing about me getting my Whatever fix.

  10. They also have a distinctive, unmistakable smell. Unfortunately, a large proportion are likely to be wormy unless you collect them almost as soon as they fall. That never seems to dissuade the squirrels.

  11. It’s not the tree itself that is toxic. It’s the husks. So not only do they stain your hands and become projectiles, they will kill your grass quite effectively.

  12. Black walnuts are evil, evil things. Depending on where in the yard this tree is you might consider removal or moving (if it’s small enough). The trees can get positively huge. The one in our neighbor’s yard that filled half our yard with nuts was over 60 feet tall. Over a busy week one fall I collected enough to overflow a 10 gallon plastic container.

    As others said, the walnuts have a natural herbicidal nature; they are rock-hard when they fall and will start to soften as the outer shell disintegrates. That’s really the problem – it’s the interior that causes the problems and stains, but once they soften past a certain point they get hard to gather up. So if you don’t stay on top of things it’s easy to have it get out of hand. And if you just leave them they will completely kill the grass where they dissolve.

    Personally I don’t think they sound worth the trouble to eat and never tried. Anything I need to RUN OVER WITH MY CAR to hull before cooking is beyond my attention span. But this NPR story from a couple years ago talks about consuming them.

    Personally, if I were you, I’d put down the computer and get an ax. Right now.

  13. The wood of the tree makes great stocks for firearms.

    That’s right, I said wood. Not only that, but I said it on top of my earlier comment, which was juvenile and mildly offensive.

    Oh, and now I am on top.

    I am on a roll, people.

  14. I’d never seen a black walnut — which looks like a rock hard lime — until I moved to Illinois. To my dismay I discovered the black stain doesn’t come off until your skin wears off. About 3-4 weeks as I recall. Nasty little things.

  15. Evil things. They dented my car roof. They slam onto my deck with the force of ten thousand exploding suns. The squirrels (evil! squirrels!) love them.


  16. As someone cursed with enormous black walnut trees and their demon hordes of squirrels, let me say one thing: hack it down while you can!

    You will indeed be tormented by lawnmower projectiles and stains. However, walnuts are also very sneaky–they hide. The nuts fall green and match the grass and not so quickly moulder to squeemy brown (and slippery) goo. It is almost impossible to scour your lawn for ALL the fallen nuts and some unsuspecting person walking through the yard will find the one you missed and twist an ankle.

    The joy of the one walnut tree is accompanied each spring by squirrels forgetting their buried stash. One walnut tree in a field quickly finds itself quite a few new friends each cycle and then the food supply can support more squirrels than should be acceptable. In which case, you might want to find a 19th century cookbook recipe for squirrel pie…

  17. Does Chez Scalzi have a squirrel problem, given the 3 cats and a dog?

    The big question is do superintelligent badgers like walnuts?

  18. Heh… my parents’ house in Tennessee has three huge walnut trees that they planted about 35 years ago. There are tons of walnuts, and they do draw squirrels, but neither of those things was ever a big deal for them/us. Mowing was never an issue, although you may want to raise the blade a bit, and their grass never had any problem surviving the handful of walnuts that the squirrels didn’t get.
    The walnut fruits will stain the heck out of anything they touch though- we used to have epic walnut fruit fights when I was a kid, to the consternation of our mothers (who had to try to wash our clothes). Also, FYI, they make excellent missiles and a walnut fruit to the forehead really, really hurts.

  19. I love the taste of black walnuts; my mom used to make a black walnut cake that was amazing. Of course, getting the black walnuts is indeed a ton of work. We actually had some rusty old machine that we could feed the unhulled walnuts into and turn a crank and it would strip the hull off. That didn’t mean you avoided the staining properties of the hull, though – we wore gloves and old clothes, and then washed the walnuts. We always just used a hammer to crack the shells open, because running over them with a car doesn’t save you that much time. You still have to painstakingly pick the nut meat out of the shell.

    I occasionally find ice cream shops that claim to have black walnut ice cream, but invariably the ice cream actually has English walnuts instead, which have a much milder flavor. I blame it on living on the West Coast, where nobody actually knows what a black walnut is.

  20. Wow, you would think the topic was politics or religion. Love or hate and not much in between.

  21. @ Sherri – Running the Walnuts over with a Car will not break the Walnut shells. The weight of the car will force the husk to pull away from the shell.

  22. When they turn black, don’t touch with your bare hands. You will NEVER get the stain off of your skin.

  23. By all that is Holy, cut the thing down now. We lived with three mature walnuts in our yard and couldn’t plant anything else. We ended up with some lovely plants in pots on the patio, but they had to be plastic pots so the falling walnuts would not break them. I feared for the life of my dog on a daily basis, and spent countless hours picking up walnuts before mowing. We’ve moved twice since then, and have summarily cut down every walnut we have inherited. Run, don’t walk, to your axe (but then walk with it, lest you hurt yourself).

  24. Man, I miss having proper black walnuts. They really do taste wonderful; very different from English walnuts.

    We had a row of a half-dozen of them, huge trees, in the field behind the house on the farm in Virginia where I grew up.

    (For those of you in the “hate” side of the love/hate relationship: If you’re ever in the position to take out a large tree, call your local sawmill first. The value of the lumber in a large tree is not inconsequential.)

  25. Our house in NY had a black walnut tree. We had to rake them up before mowing or they turned into missiles. And then one night the tree dropped an 8 inch thick, 30 foot branch on our roof. That will definitely wake you up.

  26. We had a black walnut tree a couple of houses back and I will attest to all the negatives of owning one. I’m not convinced it is just the nuts that act as a herbicide, nothing seemed to grow around the tree.

    My Grandfather-in-law took a short hunk of railroad track and put a divot in in with a welder. He rested the nut in that divot and whacked it with a small sedge hammer to break the shell. The nuts are rather tasty if a bit of a chore.

  27. What a treat! have you ever had pickled walnuts? No? you’ve missed out.

    Pick whole walnut fruits no more than 1.5″ diam and pickle them in a vinegar base (almost any good preserving book will give you a recipe). Just scrub the fruit, don’t cut it, leave the shells and all intact.

    After a while they go somewhat softer, stain everything black. You eat the whole thing, shell and all. They are sweet but slightly acid and one of my most favorite treats. Can’t find them in US, so I have to stock up when I go back to the UK occassionally.

  28. Black walnut is a highly prized furniture wood. The tree itself has a toxic quality to the ground under it, and sawdust from them, if used for animal bedding can sicken them. In much “simpler” times, walnut
    nutting” parties were considered the height of entertainment. The value as food is why you see them in older communities and farm yards. As #22, Sherri, noted, the black walnut was highly prized enough that machines were manufactured to dehull them.


  29. We had, I kid you not, at least 5 walnut trees in our small suburban yard. Their a gross, squishy brown under the peel, they stain horribly if they get on your clothes, and they were a pain when it came time to mow the lawn in the fall.

    Honestly, though, we should have at least made _some_ lemonade out the situation by having some nice nuts, but it just never happened. Too busy.

  30. @ Rembrant– Oh I like the walnuts. Just prefer that they not be near me until they’re husked and washed. It’s like pecans. Like them, prefer that the tree be somewhere else.

  31. We used to eat those when I was a kid growing up in PA. And the black stain is insidious. It took forever to get off our hands. If you wanted to do something nasty to another kid you didn’t like, you’d hit their cloths with one of those.

  32. Any natural dyers or those interested in dyeing for re-enacting would be happy to gather those black walnuts for you! I only wish I lived much much closer!

  33. Let’s talk about the really important issues: cookies! A few years ago, a co-worker mentioned the black walnut trees on their family farm, and rhapsodized about the taste of the walnuts. I said if she’d dehusk them, I’d make something sweet and bring it in, since I was our bookstore’s designated baker.

    After consulting The Internets (which always have everything) for the proper procedures, I

    1) Soaked the smelly, goopy nuts in water and used a wire brush to get rid of the disgusting decaying bits. Used long, heavy rubber gloves and clothes that I was willing to throw away for this part.

    2) Let them dry and age a bit.

    3) Discovered that neither a regular hammer nor a heavy ball peen hammer would crack open the shells.

    4) Discovered that a small vise wouldn’t do the job either.

    5) Used a heavy vise in the freezing garage to open them. One. At. A. Time.

    6) Made the cookies. I remember the recipe had lots of unsalted butter, sugar, maple syrup, and other yummy things.

    The closest I can come to describing the taste is ‘perfumed’, and it wasn’t a good perfume, either. If you’ve grown up eating black walnuts apparently this is heavenly, but the rest of us found it very off-putting. So the co-worker took all the cookies home, and I got a very nice thank-you note from her mother.

    I never want to see another black walnut again, and I certainly don’t want to eat one. Faugh!

  34. there is a cast iron machine you can buy that will strip the kernels off popcorn with the turn of a crank. a weeks worth of hand shelling can be done in an evening. I would be quite surprised if someone hasnt already built a machine that deals with walnuts.

    you could start with an oversized roomba machine that regularly circles the tree and picks up the walnuts. then some kind of treatment. then a dehusker. there has to be something out there.

    give me a lever long enough and a place to stand….

  35. I grew up with a black walnut in the back yard. We all hated it. The stain gets everything, the squirrels drop them on your heads (those suckers hurt!), and pray you don’t hit one with a lawnmower (you know, the one you always seem to miss when you clean up before cutting…)

    Have fun!

  36. I grew up with walnut trees in the back yard. We were never able to get any nuts worth eating and probably my dad only made us try 1 year. Thereafter he trained us all to throw them over the fence into the sheep field whenever we saw them. And I scoured the yard for walnuts and anything else that might turn into a projectile before mowing for as long as I lived in that house. But I learned to do that when I was really small, my dad ran over some ball or something and it flew into the screen door I was watching him mow through scaring the heck out of him an.d giving me an ongoing chore. That was a few years before we moved to that house and many years before I started actually mowing myself. (his standard…I had to outweigh the mower and I was a skinny kid.) BUT the smell of green walnuts is one of my favorite smells.

  37. Oh, such fond memories. My grandparents used to have a black walnut tree in their backyard, and I would pick up the fallen walnuts for them. My hands always got stained and smelled like the husks. Still my favorite smell.

  38. Black walnuts can kill a horse: there’s a toxin in the wood that will founder a horse whose stable bedding contains even a small amount of black walnut sawdust. (“Founder” is the common but not-quite-correct term for laminitis, an extremely painful, debilitating and potentially fatal inflammation of the sensitive tissues inside a horse’s hooves.) After dealing with the aftermath of a batch of tainted sawdust, I will never eat a walnut again!

    The husks and nuts are also, as I understand it, toxic to dogs, but not usually fatal unless they get a husk caught in their throat. Keep your dog away from them.

    Also, the squirrels around here know how to throw them at you. Ouch!

  39. I agree, chop the infernal tree down. We don’t need M. Night Shyamalan to show us that trees aren’t our friends; especially Black Walnut trees. Harvest the wood and make a nice table.

  40. What most of your readers say!

    IMHO: Black walnut nutmeats are delicious, the heartwood of the century-old trees is a delight to work with or look at, and the fruit-husks can be useful for dying cloth or light-colored softwoods. But the place for the trees is in a woodlot distant from any human habitation.

    (Oh, and compost made from, or containing a significant amount of, any part of walnut trees will prevent the growth of tomato (& some other) plants for at least three or four years, which I consider a negative factor because I like vine-ripened tomatoes.)

  41. Scalzi’s got enough land that if the black walnut kills some of his grass I doubt he’ll miss it. And he can plant tomatoes far, far away from the tree.

    My parents had a black walnut tree, years ago, put up with it for a while, and then had it cut down. They had the wood milled into boards which some years later they had a local artisan turn into a nice coffee table and end table set. Black walnut tree wood is GORGEOUS, so if you let it grow big and strong and then get sick of it and have it cut down….keep the wood.

    We were never able to get any nut meats. I think one time my father tried to run some nuts over to crack them, and the squirrels stole the nuts out of the bag as he was getting into the car. Or possibly he just told me that story so I would quit bugging him to crack me some black walnuts.

  42. With the walnuts still green make Nocino (an italian walnut liquor that is frequently homemade) or a French Vin de Noix (green walnuts steeped in wine with spices till at least xmas). Either of these would add great DYI aesthetic to your hipster-i-ness.

  43. I once lived in a house with a walnut tree; dunno if it was black or regular though. Anyway the rats *loved* that thing (there are no squirrels in New Zealand, and the thrice-damned possums thankfully don’t live in cities). With Mighty Lopsided Cat on the job, though, you may not have that problem for long.

  44. Growing up in Southern California, we had walnut trees (they were English walnuts) and my grandma had walunt trees. She sold hers as part of her way of making a living, so every September the family would get together and harvest them, dry them, hull them and sew them in big burlap sacks to take to the packing house. It was great fun, at least for those of us who were kids. We would get paid five cents (that was back in the early 1960s) per bucket for picking them up off the ground after the adults shook the limbs with a long hook to bring the nuts down from the trees.

    And, yeah, hulling the nuts stains your hands, whether you hull them while the hulls are green or wait until after they are dried, but the smell is wonderful (yeah, I know some disagree, but I like the smell) and getting to crack a few shells and eat the nuts is just bonus.

  45. I wish the f-ing squirrels would let me have some of the walnuts from my tree. Or, they could have all the walnuts and just leave me the nectarines, tomatoes, pomegranates, grapes, oranges in my garden. The damn varmints eat everything except the habaneros.

  46. Oh, and they will plant the nuts everywhere. I have a grand old time in the spring pulling up the sprouts

  47. Chiming in on the “don’t ignore the value of the wood” side–people used to plant black walnut trees as an investment for their great-grandchildren to harvest. U. of Missouri tells you more than you ever wanted to know about selling walnut timber:

  48. When I was a child, we would find these things in a friend’s yard. We called them “stink bombs” because they have a harsh smell, and we threw them at each other. It was a long time before I connected them with the empty walnut shells we also found all over the place.

  49. No. 23:

    Black Walnut Ice Cream–moan! It was my mother’s favorite flavor and I’m partial to it, too. Nut picking, like blackberry picking, isn’t that onerous if you set up to do it. My grandmother had both nut trees and blackberry bushes nearby.

    Fresh Blackberry Pie–moan! Followed by Black Walnut Ice Cream. I’m hungry.

    The squirrels can be easily taken care of. Get Athena a .410 shotgun and have her invite her boy (and girl) friends over for Squirrel Plinking. Just make sure the pets are out of the line of fire. You live in the country, enjoy it. Barring that, listen to Tom Lehrer and do the right thing.

    Jack Tingle

  50. Just be glad you don’t have a chestnut tree. The fruit on those these are murder to bare feet!

  51. Hate ’em. Absolutely. Only useful as alternate ammo for my PVC potato cannon (gloves required due to the aforementioned skin-staining effect).

  52. Geeze people! Why are you mowing under trees? Most tree experts will tell you that you ought to mulch out to the drip line anyway. This prevents both walnut projectiles and hitting your head on limbs.

    Personally, I think grass is evil and should only be tolerated in areas just big enough to entertain dogs and children.

  53. You know, you may have actually found a topic for which Rule 34 does not apply…For the “normal” folks it would be too kinky and for the “experimental” folks it would be too boring.

  54. Just so the younger generation learns something. When they matured, my uncle used to take us up into the mountains when we were wee little things (young kids), and we’d go collecting Walnuts. The one memory I have from those yonder adventures in the mountains (called Walnut Mountains) was the black stained hands for weeks afterwards. The smell not so much. But the stains, oh the stains. Could not shake them….

  55. We have one of these at my great-grandparents’ place on the Chesapeake. Love the smell, but I am not a not eater generally, though I understand there is some medicinal value to black walnuts. As kids, my brother and I would dig a really old set of clubs out of the garage and hit the freshly fallen walnuts into the water, or stock up a pile and throw them at the sea nettles.

  56. I have found that it is nearly impossible to crack open a black walnut with out the proper equipment. At first I used a hammer, but after a few smashed fingers I bought a black walnut cracker. It does the job perfectly.

  57. You know you have no life when you check in on the blog of a science fiction writer to find out if he has told what he will do with his walnut tree and the nuts from it. Seriously.

  58. BTW: that one was aimed at myself and not the rest of you, because I just did that :-)

  59. Mickie T – You gave a great description of what you did to prepare the walnuts and gather the recipe. The reason they tasted “perfumy” was because you didn’t “cure” them for 2-4 weeks before crackint them open and cooking with them. You were tasting all the tanin. No wonder you didn’t like them.

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