Walnuts in Maine

Black Walnut Collecting in Maine during the Fall of 2019

Kris and Lee Taylor

Black walnuts are not native to Maine so are not common in the landscape.  Occasionally in the fall you hear where the nuts are free for picking up but you need to follow up promptly.

We learned about two trees and got permission to collect nuts and were set to do so when a violent windstorm blew down many nuts, apparently before they were completely mature, and some of the kernels from the early harvest were somewhat shriveled.  We collected two more times as well over a three-week period and this was the first time that we have been able to do so since moving to Maine 13 years ago.

Our main pieces of equipment for processing black walnuts include an old McCormick Deering corn sheller and a Hunt nutcracker.  The corn sheller needed to have the lower panel partition removed so it would work as a nut huller.  Five-gallon pails for flotation, and wire baskets for rinsing and transporting were also used in processing the nuts.

The main sequence in processing walnuts is to pick them up, assemble equipment, run nuts through the corn sheller, separate the nuts from the hulls, wash the nuts, float the nuts to remove floaters (incompletely filled nuts), rinse the nuts again, and then place them in mesh or flat, open containers for drying.  If the drying can’t be done in a slight breeze out-of-doors in shade, then you need fans or some other way of creating air movement to dry the nuts promptly.

It is advisable to look for some help since two people running the sheller makes the process go much faster.

Since the trees are not native or common, most easterners have no idea what black walnuts are or what they taste like or can be used for.

After the nuts have dried sufficiently you can start cracking them with a good black walnut nutcracker like the one we used, a Hunt.

The Bothel Black Walnut Tree

Another Bothel Black Walnut Tree
Everything ready for removing the husks from the walnuts.
Part of the harvest. Kris picked up 30 containers of nuts from the two trees.
Feeding the nuts into the corn sheller to peel of the husks.
The corn sheller removes the husks from the nuts and now the team must separate the husks from the desired nuts. It is a good time to wear plastic gloves. Walnut stain is very powerful and mostly has to wear off from your hands.
Nuts and husks to be separated. Note that black walnuts are brown when they first come out of a green husk. Only after they oxidize a bit do they turn the traditional black color which we know so well.
For a cleaner cracking process, it is ideal to rinse as much of the husk off from the nuts as possible. The wire basket containers work great for drying. These beauties are rinsed and now set out to dry…hopefully where the squirrels cannot access them.
Extracting the gold from the shells, one at a time.
A tough machine to break through a hard shell.
The Hunt cracker Kris and Lee use.
Nature’s finest ready for eating alone or backed into delectable delights! The work has paid off nicely.

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