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How to Harvest, Store, and Cook Black Walnuts (With Recipes)

Jo loves to share the skills she has learned from living her dream life in the country, including recipes for using nature's bounty.

Black walnuts in shells

Black walnuts in shells

The black walnut tree, native to eastern North America and introduced into Europe, is grown for its valuable wood. The nuts of this tree, with their hearty, distinctive flavor prized for gourmet treats, are often difficult to locate and difficult to harvest. Most people will not make the effort to harvest these nuts. They often see them as a nuisance, unsightly in their yard and a hazard for lawnmowers. The majority of these nuts are just left to waste where they fall. Harvesting them, though, has become an enjoyable part of our fall activities.

Sustainable Living Plan and Practices

For years before my retirement, I sat in my downtown office in a high-rise building and dreamed of having a small plot of land in the country. While raising my daughters, this is what I planned. I read all the books I could find about sustainable living. I was always extremely impressed with the self-sufficiency of those who could live off the land. Helen and Scott Nearing, authors of the wonderful book The Good Life, were my heroes. “That is the way I'm going to live,” I would tell my daughters, “except I'm going to have a big-screen TV."

So I found my plot of land near where I grew up, near family and friends, and began building my house. Then I met my husband whose retirement plans did not include living in the country. He had sold all his garden equipment and moved to a condo in the city, near golf courses and sporting events. Ugh!! He was here, though, when I was building the house, and he's still here. And we do have a big-screen TV. I believe he enjoys the country living now as much as I do.

We are by no means self-sufficient. When I told my sister, “I'm mainly going to be living off the land,” she retorted, “You're mainly going to be starving.” But we cut and split most of our firewood, raise and preserve some of our vegetables. And every fall, we harvest black walnuts, one of our most enjoyable activities.

How to Harvest Black Walnuts

Black walnuts should be harvested in the fall as they begin to fall from the trees over a four to six week period. Pick up the nuts after they fall when the outer husk has turned from green to yellowish-green. If the nuts are allowed to remain on the ground too long after they fall, this husk begins to turn dark and will ruin the flavor of the nut.

Remove the outer husks of the nuts before storing. This should be done soon after harvesting to maintain the flavor. This soft outer husk can be removed with a hammer, rock, or as we do, by running over them with our riding mower. The object is to crush the soft, outer green husk and leave the inner shell intact. This is not difficult to do. Once these husks are crushed, remove the outer husk by hand by pulling it off. Be sure to wear heavy rubber gloves since the dye in the husks stains anything it comes in contact with. This potent, brownish-black natural dye, used by early settlers, is often used in handicrafts today.

Hulled black walnuts

Hulled black walnuts

How to Store and Crack Black Walnuts

Once the outer husks have been removed, spread the black walnuts in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place to dry for at least two weeks before cracking.

To crack the nuts once they have dried you will need a hard-shell nutcracker with a long handle for leverage. We purchased one of these years ago and it does a great job and has been very durable. Attach this nutcracker to a piece of wood. My husband also always surrounds the nutcracker on three sides with a cardboard box to catch the pieces that fly away.

Soak the nuts in hot water for about 24 hours before cracking. It is best to crack the nuts outside or in a garage since they are a little messy to crack. Removing the nutmeats from the shells after they are cracked, though, can be done inside around a fire or while watching television.

These nuts can be stored for short periods of time at room temperature if they are first baked at 215 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. They will keep for nine months if stored in a jar or plastic bag in the refrigerator, but they will keep for up to two years if stored in freezer containers in the freezer.

The Fruits of Your Labor

Now that you've gone to all of that work, you need some delicious recipes to make it all worthwhile. It is a good idea before you begin cooking with black walnuts to sort through the nutmeats again to be sure no small bits of shells have been inadvertently left in with the meats. I almost always find some.

Here are a few of my favorites treats:

Black Walnut Fudge Pie


  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup dark corn syrup
  • ½ cup cocoa
  • 2 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups black walnuts
  • 1 unbaked pie shell


  1. Beat eggs slightly then whisk in sugar, syrup, cocoa, butter, and vanilla until thoroughly mixed.
  2. Pour black walnuts into pie shell. (It is a good idea at this time to sort through the nuts you shelled earlier to be sure you have not left any of the small sharp pieces of the shell. I always find some.)
  3. Pour the chocolate mixture over the nuts in the pie shell. Cover the edges of the pie shell with aluminum foil to prevent over-browning and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove foil and cook for another 30 minutes.
  4. Cool before cutting. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream. Yummy.
Black Walnut Fudge Pie

Black Walnut Fudge Pie

Black Walnut Peanut Butter Fudge


  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 cup marshmallow crème
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 (6-ounce) package semi-sweet chocolate pieces
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup black walnuts


  1. Grease an 8-inch square pan.
  2. Mix together marshmallow crème, peanut butter, chocolate pieces, and vanilla in a bowl. Set aside.
  3. Combine sugar and milk in a heavy saucepan and cook over medium hear, stirring occasionally, until mixture just barely reaches softball stage. Do not overcook as this mixture hardens fast when the rest of the ingredients are added.
  4. Remove the sugar and milk mixture from the heat and quickly add marshmallow crème mixture until well blended. Fold in nuts and spread in prepared pan. Cool before cutting.

Black Walnut Oatmeal Pie


  • 3 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup black walnuts
  • 4 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 unbaked pie shell


  1. Combine eggs, sugar, syrup, milk, butter, vanilla, and salt. Mix well.
  2. Stir in nuts and pour in unbaked pie shell.
  3. Cover edges of pie shell to prevent over browning and cook for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.
  4. Remove foil and cook for 25 minutes more or until top is golden brown. Cool before cutting.

This recipe is one of my favorites. It's very easy to make and takes only 1/2 cup of the precious walnut meats. Well worth the time.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Jo Miller