We decided to take advantage of the nice fall weather this past week by taking a drive along the woods. On our little ride we noticed a hickory nut tree loaded with nuts. Some of the nuts had already fallen to the ground.
This must be the one of the better years for hickory nuts. Hickory nuts are on a 3-year cycle—producing a lot of nuts one year, a moderate amount one year, and hardly any nuts the third year.
Hickory nuts are a healthy wild food. I am most familiar with the shagbark hickory but there are actually 17 varieties of hickory trees, 13 that are native to the U.S.
Many people really like hickory nuts and consider them quite a treat. Farmers often left a lone hickory tree in the middle of a field and farmed around it so they could gather the tasty nuts in the fall. My grandpa Miller left a hickory nut tree in the field south of the house and I remember that my Aunt Ann would make hickory nut cake. My dad liked the hickory nuts, too.
I remember my parents saying that hickory nuts are one of the hardest nuts to shell. The hard inner shell is surrounded by a thicker, woody shell called the husk. The husk is green at first and the nuts fall to the ground in late summer when the husks begin to turn dark brown.
Inside the husk is the hard shell and it is very hard to crack open. Suggestions for cracking the shell include using a vice, a hammer, or covering them with plywood and driving over them. Others suggest soaking them in hot water for an hour so the shell splits open rather than shattering all over.
I remember when grandma Schumm stayed with my parents to recover after her surgery. My mom put grandma to work shelling hickory nuts to pass the time. She called it therapy but it sounds like it was a whole lot of work for poor grandma.
My mom used hickory nuts in several ways–in hickory nut cake, in dessert toppings, and as part of the topping for sweet potato soufflé. I don’t recall that she ever made a hickory nut pie but I have seen recipes for them, too. My mom would freeze her excess shelled hickory nuts.
Me? I try to avoid eating anything that has hickory nuts in it. Although I like the smell of the hickory nut husks I prefer the taste of walnuts and pecans. But most of all I have the unfortunate luck of always finding a little part of the shell when I eat something with hickory nuts. Always! It is just a wonder that I have not broken a tooth on one of those shells.
Here are two hickory nut cake recipes my mom had highlighted in her cookbook:
Hickory Nut Cake:
1 box white or yellow cake mix
¾ cup oil
1 pkg instant vanilla pudding
8 oz (1 cup) 7Up
1 cup hickory nuts
Bake 40 min. at 350 degrees.
½ cup flour
1 cup milk
Cook till thick, like mashed potatoes. Cool.
Beat together and add to above mixture:
½ cup oleo
½ cup Crisco
1 cup sugar
Sprinkle nuts on top.
White Nut Cake:
¾ cup shortening
1 ½ cup sugar
2 ¾ cup cake flour
3 t baking powder
½ t salt
1 cup milk
½ t cream of tartar
1 t vanilla
1 cup hickory nuts, chopped
4 egg whites, stiffly beaten
Cream shortening with sugar. Sift dry ingredients; add alternately with milk to first mixture. Beat thoroughly; add vanilla and nuts. Carefully fold in egg whites. Pour into greased 9” layer pans and bake 30 minutes at 375 degrees.
Just be careful. Be very, very careful when you eat those hickory nuts. There may be some shell parts lurking inside.