Can you eat walnuts off their tree?
Walnuts can be eaten directly off the tree. But if they are stuck on the tree there is a high chance that they are still not ripe and raw nuts could contain harmful bacteria and fungi. Once walnuts are ripe they fall off the tree after which they can be consumed.
Yes, nuts are safe to eat from the tree, but remember, they do not taste the same as those you bought at the store. English walnuts are non-poisonous, but the shells are poisonous when eaten raw, so wear gloves when handling them. English nuts have a finely-textured shell that can easily be cracked using a lever-type walnut cracker.
From there, black walnuts are shelf-stable, able to survive several years, and will let you crack them as much and as often as you want. I usually use the black walnut trees for their shells for making black walnut tincture, and I use English walnuts for the nut meat. In this post, I am going to discuss picking the English nuts, picking out the fresh nuts, and drying them to store them shell-side up.
If you are picking English nuts from your tree, you can start by plucking nuts from the lower branches once the green husks begin breaking apart. To start picking nuts, you will need a tree stand, or one combined with a hook if working on larger trees.
If you are picking walnuts in their green state, with their shells still solid, you will have to figure out a way to get rid of the shells on your own, and you can find a lot of ideas on how to do this on the internet. The best way to dehull small amounts of walnuts is to do it by hand, using a chisel and a hammer to pound out the hulls. Some folks swear that the best way to de-hull large amounts is to get a car on the ground, then turn the wheels on top of trays of nuts. Inspect the nuts, checking for cracked husks, and tossing out those showing signs of damage or infestation.
Next, you will want to rinse the nuts, to remove whatever is left of the outer shell, revealing a solid shell. Another option, after the black nuts are dry, is to remove the nuts shells and store them refrigerated or frozen. The nuts must be cracked open, with the nut flesh remaining intact, and this is not easily done with machines.
To do this, you can either sprinkle the nuts thinly, preferably on a screen or drying rack, or hanging them on a mesh bag in a well-ventilated place out of direct sunlight for a couple weeks. Spread out your nuts on a screen or rack, and put them in an area that is warm and dry, and far away from pests. If drying nuts outside, make sure you cover them with plastic mesh so birds do not get them.
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Tree owners instructed me to set out the freshly-picked nuts in a cool, dry, shaded area to allow them to ripen for at least a month before using. I either sat the nuts in shallow cardboard boxes, or I placed them into my black planting tray I use for starting seeds. We tried to keep them airtight (thinking that the hoppers protect fresh nuts) but had problems with nuts getting mouldy in them. For a few years, we picked nuts by hand, but tried using a sphere-style nut picker (similar to a garden weasel medium-sized fruit picker) this year.
Green walnuts are out of the scope of this post, but I actually do pick many, usually around June here in Minnesota and Wisconsin. For now, if you are simply curious, or planning on growing your own nuts, you should know they grow on trees. Whether you have got a black walnut tree on your property, or are more of the foraging variety, picking your nuts can be gratifying.
Many people who have walnut trees on their property consider the fruit to be an annoyance, and might be receptive to your offering to clean their yard for them and harvest the nuts. Most owners of walnut trees have a love/hate relationship because of the fruit that the trees drop during the late summer through October. When walnut trees are harvested, harvesting season typically starts at the end of August or beginning of September and continues through the beginning of November, depending on the type and area in which the nuts are grown. In colder climates, nuts must be harvested in the early morning hours, while temperatures are still cold.
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At that time, nuts should last for up to three years (if not eaten all first) inside their shells, kept cold and dry. Just remember, if you stored pre-packed nuts in the refrigerator, they may only hold an additional couple months past their best-by date. In the refrigerator, nuts with a good amount of aging will keep up to one year, while in the freezer, they will last for two to several years, provided that you are able to prevent yourself eating them that long.
Pre-packaged nuts will give off lots of moisture when thawed, and thawing too many at once can result in small pools of water that eventually spoil. On top of all of this, nuts are very high in fat, making them a problem of fattening dogs who are already overweight. Since black walnut shells are made of basalt/volcanic rock, they are incredible heavy and tough, and no amount of nut-cracking or missed-hammer-blows is going to do any harm to them. Blacknut shells are wonderfully hard — far more so than English nuts — and you are not going to be cracking them on your rocking chair with grandpa over Christmas, instead, you and grandpa are going to have to head out to the garage and set up a small set to crack nuts.
Black nuts are fattiest of all nuts (guess where the black walnut oil comes from), and, on that note, it follows that lots of butter, just like the nuts themselves, deteriorates in flavor over time. When planted open, black walnuts will grow in branches near the ground, developing an extended form that makes harvesting their sweet, round, two-to-three-inch nuts easier. In short, black nuts are excellent in any recipe that needs some sort of crunch factor, and you can leave them whole if you prefer. If you leave nuts for a long period, the outside shells may soften and turn black, giving your end product a terrible, decayed taste.
How can you tell if walnuts are edible?
There is a time between the end of September and the beginning of October when walnuts should be collected. Black walnuts should be harvested as soon as the outer husk softens, but it is still green at that moment. A high-quality nutmeat is light in colour and mild in flavour, which identifies it as being of the best quality. In the case of a maturing nut, you will be able to leave a finger impression in the husk.
Is the outside of walnuts poisonous?
There is a toxic chemical that is produced by black walnut trees known as juglone. Juglone is so strong it can damage and even kill off the vegetative growth around these trees and is often blamed for causing problems in horses who may ingest black walnut shavings.
How do you know when a walnut is ready to eat?
When black walnuts are ripe for harvest, you can: when the nut within has a husk that is discolored, fractured, yields to pressure, or peels off readily. Picking green-skinned walnuts are OK, but it takes more effort to get to the nut meat.