My grandmother never bought walnuts during the holidays. Those store bought nuts with the thin shells lacked a flavor rich enough to enhance the cakes and pies that made this time of year so special. Blessed with two large trees near the house and grandkids willing to crack those thick shells, she always cooked with black walnuts.
The black walnut tree (Juglans nigra) is a native of Virginia that can reach a height of 90 feet with a diameter of 3 feet. The bark is dark brown to black and the leaves are up to 24 inches with 10 to 12 alternating, sharply ovalleaflets. The wood from this tree is used in both veneer and solid furniture and highly regarded for its strength.
The prized Black Walnut Tree
Ground black walnut shell makes a very fine abrasive and is used for everything from polishing wood to teeth. It is even used to exfoliate skin in some cosmetics and soaps. The bark and hulls have medicinal uses from curing athlete's foot to sore throat. Black walnut can also be toxic to other plants and animals. Always seek professional advice before using this (or any other plant) for medical purposes.
The black walnut kernels have an almost smoky flavor. They are also a bit oily and should be stored in a cool, dry place. Black walnuts can be substituted in almost any recipe. But, use a little less of them as they can overpower other flavors. To highlight their delicious taste, try making a Black Walnut Pound Cake. Most grocery stores carry them already processed. If you know someone who has a tree or two on their property, get permission and pick your own.
Walnut meat ready to eat
What recipes do you enjoy using black walnuts?
Foraging is not permitted in our Virginia State Parks, but, fine specimens of black walnut trees can be found in the day use area and along the Taskinas Creek Trail at York River State Park.
Directions to York River State Park: From I-64, take the Croaker Exit 231B. Go north on Route 607 (Croaker Rd.) for one mile, then right on Route 606 (Riverview Rd.) about one and a half miles to the park entrance. Take a left turn into the park.