If you’re lucky enough to have a walnut tree, now is the time your work begins.
Walnuts, whether English or Black, have a similar drying process. You have to work harder to get the meat out of a black walnut because husk is harder to remove and the shell is much harder, but the drying process is the same. I know people that run over black walnuts with their car to remove husks or tumbled them in a concrete mixer. Black walnut has a unique flavor, that some people prefer.
English walnuts are mature when the husk is split and comes off easily, usually by itself. The white membrane on the inside of the husk will turn a dark color. Those are your indicators that the nuts are ready for drying.
Walnuts can be picked from the tree, shaken or knocked out when the husks begin cracking. They will fall naturally and are usually just picked off the ground. If the nuts fall and the husks are still intact they will continue to ripen off the tree. Spread them out in a single layer in a protected area away from squirrels, until the husks split and can be removed without problem. If the walnuts are allowed to sit on wet ground the kernels may discolor and shrivel. Sometimes, if a tree has been stressed for water, the husk won’t crack. If this seems to be happening, cut away some of the husk and check the color of the membrane. Like I mentioned earlier, it would be a dark color if mature. Even though the husks might not crack, they can be separated easily from the nut at the appropriate time.
The walnuts can be air-dried, by spreading in a single layer in a sunny location or they can also be placed in a mesh bag, like an onion sack, and hung up to dry. This natural drying process may take one to several weeks. You can also dry nuts in the oven. This process will take several days. It’s very important that the drying temperatures not exceed 100 degrees or the nut quality will be impaired. In either drying method, air circulation is just as important as the temperature. You will be able to tell when the nuts are dry by checking the thin membrane between the nut halves. It will be dry and brittle. The nuts themselves will crack when bent. Store the dried walnuts in a sealed container in a cool, dry, dark place or freeze.
If you’ve been bothered with the Walnut husk fly, you may find white larva feeding inside the husk. Nut quality may be affected. These zebra winged flies overwinter in the soil, emerging about the middle of July. Clean up all the dropped walnuts before the larva crawl out into the soil, this will help reduce the number next year. Chemical treatment is to spray a labeled insecticide beginning mid July. Follow label directions carefully.
Enjoy your walnut crop and remember that I accept cookies, with nuts, any time.