Wild Hickory Nuts

Shagbark hickory fruits (with husk) and nuts, Oct 2011 (photo by Kate St. John)

27 October 2013

Here’s something I literally stumbled on in Schenley Park:  shagbark hickory nuts (Carya ovata).

The big round balls, which cradle easily in the palm of my hand, are husk-covered nuts.  They’re green when ripe but turn brown with age (bottom right).  Their four sections naturally come open as the nut ages and sometimes burst when they hit the ground.

I didn’t need any special tools to open the husks, just my fingers.  At first I didn’t realize they were merely husks so I thought it was odd that they didn’t protect the nut but…

The nutshell is another story (center of the photo).  Irregularly shaped and slightly larger than a quarter, I tried to open it by cutting and other gentle means but it was impossible.  The meat inside is reputed to be sweet but I had to destroy the nut to taste it.

Hmmm.  Get out a hammer or hire a squirrel.

I got out the hammer.

The first nut had very shriveled meat inside.  Perhaps it had been attacked by a bug.

The second and third nuts looked promising except that the meats resembled dried Chinese wood ear mushrooms and they tasted like nothing.  (My photo doesn’t do this justice.)

Shagbark hickory nuts, hammered open (photo by Kate St. John)

Either I was doing something wrong — quite possible — or these nuts are not as good as described.

I wonder how many nuts the squirrels spend time opening only to find that the meat inside was not worth it.

(photo by Kate St. John)

8 thoughts on “Wild Hickory Nuts

  1. Kate, you may have been unfortunate enough to have chosen a bitternut or pignut,
    which are both bitter and/ or inedible. Quite the contrary with the shagbark and
    shellbark, which are both very tasty,though tedious to remove the meats. I spent
    many childhood hours picking out the goodies. Also,do not bother with any nuts
    with holes.

  2. Back in the 60’s, my Dad used to take us kids to a stand of wild hickory trees to harvest the nuts, in Niagara Falls, New York. We picked up tons of them, and he used to crack ’em open with a hammer and use a pick to get at the meat. He was all about “free” food….

  3. When I was a child my parents once paid my brother and I to pick up the nuts, a penny per nut. The year I was 8 I earned $8.01–big money in the ’80s! My grandpa built a little machine to crack them and he picked them out for us.

  4. Squirrels and chipmunks seem to have a knack for knowing which nuts are dried out or ruined by insects. In our yard, any chestnuts left on the ground seem to be bad. When the nuts start to fall, you have to be right there to get the good ones!

    I remember my first time eating hickory nuts. A guy brought them into work and we used a lead weight to crack them open! Later, I insisted on switching to a hammer from our tool box. The sweet nuts were difficult to get open, but they were addictive. We spent all day going through the bag of nuts!

  5. I think Jim has described the problem I had with those nuts –> They were on the ground for a while because no self-respecting squirrel/chipmunk would touch them. The rodents *knew* the nuts were bad.

  6. evry nut opened was dried out and shriveled up,no holes in them yet they are all ruined so far after cracking up to fifty.. why???

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