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Backpacker Magazine – October 2007

Trail Food: 3 Edible Nuts

You're lost, hungry, and starting to shiver: Time to play squirrel.

by: Steve Brill

Butternut, Alan L. Bauer
Butternut, Alan L. Bauer
Black Walnut, Michael P. Gadomski
Black Walnut, Michael P. Gadomski

With billions of nutritious nuts plunking to the ground every fall, a caloric cornucopia is all around you. Pith-helmeted New York naturalist "Wildman" Steve Brill favors these prolific varieties to save your life, or jazz up your salad.

Black Walnut
Season: Late September, October
Stomp on this little green tennis ball to expose the brittle, ridged interior shell—and avoid the staining liquid. The meat inside will add a rich, fruity flavor to trail mix, cereal, salad, and soup. Dark-barked walnut trees grow in the Midwest and East, in places like New York's Bear Mountain State Park. From the George Washington Bridge, take the Palisades Interstate Parkway 42 miles north to exit 19. Park at the inn, and follow the red-blazed Major Welch Trail 3 miles to the white-blazed Appalachian Trail near the Bear Mountain summit.

Season: late August through September
About twice the size of a grape, the sticky, green, lemon-scented butternut husk tapers at both ends like a spindle. Butternut trees grow in hardwood and bottomland forests throughout the East and Southeast, and they produce crunchy, sweet nuts that taste like pecans. Find butternuts along the Euell Gibbons Nature Trail in West Virginia's North Bend State Park. From Parkersburg, drive 21 miles east on US 50 to WV 21, turn right to go 4 miles to Cairo, and follow signs to the park.

Season: late August through September
This heart-shaped nut (also called a filbert) is produced by a smooth-barked shrub common to the eastern United States and southern Canada. Pick hazelnuts in early fall when the bristly green husks turn brown. Dry the shells and then crack them open to scoop out the oily meat inside. Find them in Virginia's George Washington National Forest along the 3.5-mile Chimney Hollow Trail. From Staunton, VA, head 15 miles north on US 250 to the trailhead just before the road forks at West Augusta.

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Sep 26, 2010

By the way, I agree with gypkap about the methods and uses. The most common recipes rely on the flavor of the walnut alone, such as black walnut ice cream, black walnut fudge made with a chocolate-free fudge base, or baked goods with no other strong flavors except black walnuts. Be forewarned, though, that the distinctive flavor of black walnuts doesn't always please every palate. For myself, I always find them a sweet, unique, rare and delightful treat.

Once cracked and shelled, if they are not to used in a few days, they should be refridgerated or frozen to avoid rancidity setting in. Even so, they do have limited self life thereafter. Rancid black walnuts are far nastier than any other rancid nut I have encountered. Taste a previously stored batch before using in recipes.

Sep 26, 2010

The abundance of black walnuts and other nuts not suitable for humans,and the not-at-all-endangered abundance the foraging animals thereof, make this a no-brainer for human hand-harvesting. I've yet to see a fall of black walnuts or hickory nuts that the squirrels hadn't already gone over (as evidenced by peeled and cracked hulls and nuts) and from which lots of good nuts remained. Around here, the squirrels usually get to the good stuff well before even the most watchful human does, be the goods walnuts, acorns, peaches, or any other seed, nut, or "stone" bearing fruit or plant. (This is usually to the dismay of many gardeners.) These arborial critters don't wait for the goodies to fall to the ground from high up, either. Moreover, many nut trees grow both near paths and deeper in forrested areas, and fallen nuts in deeper areas are usually hidden by leaves and other accumulated detrius. It would be a huge chore to thoroughly hand-harvest an area without a squirrel's nose to find them. Short of a large crowd of people going through a forest and turning over every leaf for nuts as if they were a CSI crew looking for the bullet to solve the crime of the century, the four-legged diners of the few humanly edible nut species are not going to be adversely affected.

Dec 19, 2008

do you know where to purchase nuts at bulk rate?

Keith Woeste
Jul 23, 2008

I like the mention of butternuts, but the picture provided is not butternut but black walnut. Makes me wonder if the author knows how to tell the two species apart.

Jeremy Anderson
May 02, 2008

I always read articles about natural foods and I've always wanted to be walking through the woods and spot something that I can eat without wondering "is that the right thing?" So I never follow through on it. This article has great info in it, but could you include pictures so I'm not trying to find something by description alone? Thanks for all the great info, I love sitting down with a new issue and learning everything I can.

Andrew Bender
Apr 26, 2008

I had never used my survival skills or my knowledge of wild edibles until last year. I went on a two day "in and out" in the Georgia mountains with my dog Luna. Unfortunately I forgaot to pack Lunas food, cutting my supply in half. I made use of several tasty bits for the next morning, and the hike back including acorns, some sassafrass root and other goodies. now it is common custom for me to search out a few extras whenever I can. No need for a cache though. As stated by others leave some for the next hungry inhabitant whom or whatever it my be.

Piscataway, New Jersey
Apr 20, 2008

Getting accostomed to eating nature's food is something I aspire to. We tend to eat so many things that are processed that looking back to nature is a desire. Of course one should not being wasteful. Out of respect for the environment and animals, eating your fill and leaving the rest is the common courtesy.

Apr 20, 2008

Getting accostomed to eating nature's food is something I aspire to. We tend to eat so many things that are processed that looking back to nature is a desire. Of course one should not being wasteful. Out of respect for the environment and animals, eating your fill and leaving the rest is the common courtesy.

Apr 05, 2008

Oh geez! Thousands of nuts go to waste every year around my house and we have a vast animal and bird population. Pick all you want. Survival or not. I'd only worry about saving some for the squirrels if there is a limited number of trees in the area. Even then, fewer trees just means the damage is already done.

Apr 04, 2008

I agree 100% with "DougP". If everyone just started picking nuts it would have a profound impact on wildlife, unless in a survival situation leave it alone. And even in a survival situation pick spareingly from different areas not all in one spot.

Apr 02, 2008

"You're lost, hungry, and starting to shiver: Time to play squirrel."
Isn't that addressing survival situations?

Apr 01, 2008

Black walnuts are very common in the mountains above Monterey NL Mexico. We have several of them on our property and they keep much longer than other nuts due to the hard shell


Apr 01, 2008

Unless you're addressing survival situations, perhaps we shouldn't encourage nut collecting. In the same spirit that brought us leave no trace practices, we should leave the natural foods of the forest alone - I'm sure what the casual picker takes probably doesn't depelete the food supply, but that really isn't the point is it? We people have our own food supply, so leave the critters' supply alone! Natural foods serve two purposes: feed the animals, propogate the trees and shrubs.

Mar 31, 2008

We had a black walnut tree in our yard when I was a kid. As will become obvious, black walnuts should be harvested for their nutmeats, but they're not really a survival food, as it takes too much time and effort to prepare them.

To crack black walnuts you'll need a hammer and a piece of old concrete, or a pair of very sturdy rocks, because the shells are very hard. Also be prepared for the husks, which stain cloth dark brown (they were once used as a dye by settlers in the areas where they grow). Wear old gloves you don't mind getting stained. Roll the husks off with a bootheel and let the nuts dry for a week or two (unsure how long), then get the rest of the hulls off and let them dry. Use a hammer and a hard surface to break the nuts, and use nutpicks to get the meat out of the shells.

The nuts are very strong tasting, but work well in homemade chocolate fudge. A little bit of black walnut flavors a lot of fudge.


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