last updated on : 10.27.2009 - Select Items Listed Your Satisfaction And Value Guaranteed
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Copyright:  Mike Sillett


1. Intro
2. Tools
3. Materials
4. Procedure / technique

Photo of two 'Quarter Pieces' from a half of a hickory nut

1. Intro

Some the best eating nuts you can get are FREE. And especially delicious are the wild Hickory nuts we have in the western part of Pennsylvania.
It does take a bit of effort to gather them and if you don't know a good way to get out the nut meat from the shell then it takes a frustratingly long time to accumulate enough nut meat to do anything with.

This tutorial pertains to Shagbark Hickory Nuts. I gather them every year around September and sell quite a few and eat quite a few and store quite a few for later use.

If you have ever gathered Shagbark Hickory nuts then you know that getting at the nut meat is the hardest part, and for most people, the most messy part. That's because most people use traditional methods to open the nuts. They either smack the nut with a small hammer or use a heavy duty nutcracker. Either way, pieces of shell and often pieces of nut meat go flying. The spouse gets upset. You step barefooted on sharp little pieces you didn't find. I know how it goes. After a while people give up and say to heck with it and they go buy walnuts, brazil nuts and pecans at Giant Eagle.

This method is very easy. All that is required is a penknife, a pair of sidecutters and a wood cutting board.

2. Tools

Sharp Pocket Knife
Side Cutters

3. Materials

Wood Cutting Board. ( Why a wood cutting board rather than plastic, nylon, rubber, glass, etc.? I'll get to that as we go. )

Here are the items needed. The knife and sidecutters on the wood cutting board.

photo showing tools and materials needed - a penknife, pair of sidecutters and a wood cutting board.

Here are the three items I use. A Swiss Army knife, a pair of sidecutters and a wood cutting board.

4. Procedure

Get an an old wood cutting board at a garage sale or thrift store OR get a piece of scrap hardboard at a lumber yard or Home Depot or something similar. Get it big enough to have a decent work surface. The one I use is 10 inches wide and about one foot long.

You want wood because you are going to chisel/cut out a depression right in the center of the board ( you don't want to do that with cutting board plastic, nylon, glass, rubber, etc. ). The depression will hold the hickory nut in place. The depression should be deep enough and have the same aspect/shape as a half a hickory nut.
The depression I have on my board is like a female clone of the hickory nut shell it supports. I kept carving until it was deep enough and formed well enough so when the nut is put in the depression it will stay put. It DOES NOT have to be real deep. In fact, you don't want it real deep. Just deep enough so that it is obvious that the nut is sitting in a depression.

Once this cutting board is made to your satisfaction stash it somewhere for each years nut harvest.

Now take a close look at the hickory nut's construction.

photo showing close-up of hickory nuts to demonstrate the seam that distinguishes each half of the nut.

Close-up of Shagbark Hickory nuts to demonstrate the seam which distinguishes one half from the other.

Once you have the board set up with the depression in it, you can, with one tap onto the knife blade, split the nut in half and get a bowl of HALFS like the below photo shows in hardly any time at all. AND, the best part - there won't be pieces of nut and pieces of shell everywhere in the house. You will end up with nice pieces of Quarter nut meats. Perfect for baking.

photo showing a bowl of HALF split hickory nuts.

Showing a nice bunch of half-cut Shagbark Hickory nuts. All nice and clean. No worms, mildew, rotted, etc.

Now look at a close-up of the nuts that were cut in half. You'll notice that these half nuts also have a distinct area that can be considered a dividing line. That is what we are going to exploit.

photo showing a close-up of half-cut hickory nuts.

Here you can see that the half-cut hickory nuts also reveal a 'parting line' that can be used to quarter-cut the shell.

Take a half-cut nut from the bowl and set it into the depression in the cutting board. Put the blade of the penknife as close to what you think the midline is.

photo showing the penknife blade being placed in position for a tap.

Showing the penknife blade being placed in position, ready for the quick tap.

Get the sidecutters and give the knifeblade a quick tap. If you wish you can lay a towel over the knife before tapping to insure that pieces don't go flying off the board.

photo showing the knifeblade being tapped to cut the half-nut into a quarter-nut.

Showing the sidecutters giving the knifeblade a quick tap to cut the half-nut into a quarter-nut.

When you cut the half-nut into a quarter-nut the nut meat inside will be very easy to remove. Most of the time the nut meat just falls out when turned over. If it won't fall out right away, that's why we have the sidecutters.

If it appears that the nut meats are a bit stubborn in coming out, take the sidecutters and utilyzing the very tip of the cutter, take little nips from the shell. Most times one little nip will shatter the quarter piece of shell and there's the nut meat - just like that.

photo showing the results of the half-nut being split by the knifeblade into quarter-nuts and the nut meat taken out.

Here are the nut meats from the half-nut. Two little quarter pieces Perfect for baking and candy making.

Hickory nuts freeze well and keep a long time if in an airtight freezer bag. Freezing is the best way to store. The oils in nuts go rancid after a bit of time so why go to all that work gathering if you end up with nuts that don't taste good anymore.

My own personal preference, after many years of utilyzing Hickory nuts, is to cut them in half before freezing.
I do this for two reason:
      ( 1. ) I want to be sure that the nuts I freeze are good inside, worm free and not moldy, and
      ( 2. ) I rather just do the half-cut rather than the whole-cut because it's a bit less work ( procastrinator that I am ) AND because the shells protect the nut meat a bit from physical abuse that occurs in my freezer from scrummaging around for other things.
If you don't believe that the nuts are protected by the shell they're frozen in, try freezing some without being in their shell and tell me one year later how many crumbs you end up with in your freezer bag upon thawing.

photo showing a freezer bag full of half-nuts.

Here's a gallon bag of half-cut Shagbark Hickory nuts ready for the freezer.

While you are gathering Hickory nuts keep your nose to the ground. You never know what else you'll find.
Here's one of my bonuses. Andrew ( $20.00 ) Jackson of all things. Ironic I thought at the time, considering that I'm searching for Hickory nuts and Jackson's nickname was 'Old Hickory'.
Well, you know, it could have been George Washington. That would not even merit a mention.

photo showing a $20.00 bill found while gathering Hickory Nuts at a local park.

A $20.00 Bill - Andrew Jackson ( Old Hickory ) found while gathering Hickory nuts at a local park.
Irony can occur at anytime or any place.

Try this method. I guarantee you success and no more frustration. A good reason to get out and enjoy the great outdoors.


I sell Shagbark Hickory nut HALFS - In Season, each year.
A bit more expensive is the completely shelled Hickory Nuts, which also are a big seller each year.

The season is September, thereabouts. I'm always available for contact should one wish to make an order near that time.

Feel free to copy the information for your own use. Gather your own nuts and shell them as I have shown.

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