While November is considered to be one of the harvest months, anyone who gardens and preserves crops for the winter can tell you, harvest and gathering and “putting by” as the old timers called it, began back in March and April with rhubarb and asparagus.
Those packages and jars of red and green have been joined with summer’s tomatoes and beans and then apples and pumpkins. So by now the shelves and freezer are pretty full. But there’s still room for the final crop to be brought in.
This last crop is free so don’t overlook it. Hickory nuts, walnuts and butternuts all benefit from a frost and a slightly windy day to bring them down. We’ve had both the frost and windy day here in Ohio so now is the time for gathering.
Of course, the beauty of the whole operation is in the autumn colors. Sitting under a magnificent golden hickory tree with hues of red-rose, orange and lemon-yellow dancing all around from sunlight in nearby trees will make you slow down and appreciate just what this last crop is all about. In the clear, crispy-cool air, well… it will stir your soul and leave you wondering if you just shouldn’t stay here till the snow flies.
Once gathered, don’t be in a hurry to process the nuts. Leave them in a bin or box so they can dry out and any unwanted tag-a-longs will have time to vacate the premises. They usually use a window that they built into the nuts. By giving them time to leave, you won’t waste time cracking spoiled nuts.
The hickory shuckworm or hickory/pecan weevils have been eating their fill inside some of the nuts. Only after dropping and sensing the warmer air of an Indian summer day or your house, will they chew out of the silver-colored hole in the nut and crawl out for their next stage of life.
You have to clear away the husks and debris anyway, just look for those silver spots and discard those nuts. Crack the good nuts without fear of a squashed worm in the pile.
I suppose I should warn you. Hickories are a tough nut to crack. In fact, the following is rather a testimonial to just how tough they are. The following note was included in a thank you a few years back when I gifted a box of nuts to a friend.
“The cake was magnificent, although I have to admit cracking the nuts was a real challenge. One of my “aging” symptoms is lack of manual strength so the usual nutcrackers didn’t work. You would have enjoyed the sight of my holding nuts with pliers, crushing them with a hammer and ducking flying nutmeats. It was worth it though.”
A lot of native trees are gone due to old age, disease and “progress.” There are a few stands of the giants left in our area. Here’s a couple of ways to use the nuts if you have a mind to go out gathering. That is if you don’t mind a few wiggly intruders and can wield a hammer.
1940 Hickory White Fudge
Place sugar, cream, butter and salt in saucepan. Heat slowly. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Cover until boiling point is reached. Uncover and cook without stirring until candy thermometer temperature reaches 240 degrees F.
This is known as soft ball stage. If you place a few drops of the syrup in cold water it will form a soft ball of candy.
Remove pan from heat and add vanilla. Let cool to lukewarm without stirring. Add nuts and beat until creamy. It will lose its shine. Pour into buttered plate or pan and cool. Cut into squares.
1935 Hickory Nut Pie
1/2 cup soft butter
Dash of salt
1-1/4 cups nutmeats
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup dark corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pie pastry for a one-crust 9-inch pie
Preheat oven to hot. (425 degrees F). Line pie pan with pastry, crimp edges. In bowl, mix filling ingredients well. Pour into pie pan. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven to medium heat (325 degrees F). Bake for another 30-35 minutes or until filling is set. Cool completely.