Guideline for Drying Walnuts
Nutmeats are a nutritious and delicious food that can be harvested at home, but special care must be taken in drying walnuts before consuming them to ensure their safety.
Two types of walnuts are commonly harvested and eaten: the English walnut and the black walnut. Each grows upon trees that are as lovely to use as a landscape item as they are beneficial for providing food. The dense foliage sported by the trees offers cool shade during the hot summer months, and in the fall the fruit of the tree drops so that it can easily be collected. To loosen nuts that stubbornly cling to the branches, many growers will shake the tree to promote drop, then simply collect the harvest from the ground.
There is a distinct difference in appearance of the nuts that are produced from each of the types of trees. Both are encased in hulls as they grow, which should be removed as soon as the nuts are harvested. The hulls of English walnuts will generally begin to burst as they ripen on the trees; often, the nuts that have fallen to the ground will have split hulls. Black walnuts present a bit more of a challenge. Hulls from these nuts can be removed in a variety of ways, but a common manner is to simply drive over the layer of nuts with a car or truck. Drive back and forth over the nuts until the hulls loosen and can peeled away. To determine if the nuts are ripe enough to harvest, crack a few open. English walnuts are ready when the skin or tissue between the shell and the nutmeat turns brown. In the case of black walnuts, the hull tells the grower when they are ready for harvesting as they transform from green to a yellowish green color. When this occurs, a simple test of pressing your thumb against the hull will confirm the nut’s ripeness when an indentation is made.
Once the hulls have been removed from either type of walnut, the nuts must be dried. There is a certain amount of natural moisture that is within the nut as it grows. This moisture must be removed before the nutmeats are stored. Leaving the moisture invites mold to develop; mold that contains toxins that could prove to be dangerous if consumed.
The best method of drying the nuts is to place them in a single layer on a screen. An old screen door or window would be perfect for this task. Allow the nuts to remain in dry, cool area that does not receive direct sunlight for a minimum of two weeks. After the drying time has been completed, crack the shell of one of the nuts open and remove the meat. Grasp both sides of the nutmeat and press backwards; if the nutmeat cracks crisply in half, the nuts are fully dried. If the break seems too soft, allow the weeks to air dry for one more week before trying again.
The cured nuts should be kept in a cool, dry place where they receive good airflow in order to prevent molding. Mesh bags hung from the rafters will offer the airy environment they need. Nuts contain Omega fatty acids than can turn rancid if not kept in a cool atmosphere; even after shelling it is important to store the nutmeats properly for optimal flavor. Then simply use the nuts as needed; they can be used as an ingredient in many dessert, bread and main dish recipes or eaten just as they are.
Growing your own nuts can provide you with an ample supply of this nutritious and delicious food. Following these tips for drying walnuts will ensure that the nuts you harvest will remain viable until you are ready to use them.