Cooking With Hickories: You Gotta Be Nuts

When they're feeling charitable, friends and family consider me a Pollyanna who's forever trying to make lemonade out of lemons ("I realize I've led us off the trail and we've gotten caught in a cloudburst, but think how great it will feel when we make it back to civilization and put on some dry clothes!")

More often they are wary of my tendency toward not just getting lost, but wandering into brambles or slogging through swamps, all the while insisting, "It can't be much farther …"

So when I bounded into the office a few weeks ago with a bag full of hickory nuts that I had gathered from the ground, and chattered excitedly how great they would taste once you took the time to crack them open and pry out the meat, only a handful of naïve colleagues took the bait (with some prompting).

Loyal readers will recall how I issued a challenge to three food experts: Rich Swanson, an award-winning chef who frequently whips out gourmet dishes and offers free samples; Jenna Cho, who writes the "Salt to Taste" column; and Spilling the Beans columnist Jill Blanchette.

"Take these and see what you can come up with," I instructed.

I then promised readers I would report the results. Here goes:

First of all, Rich decided he would initially roast the nuts so they would pop up open more readily.

He looked forlorn the next day.

"They did pop open fairly easily, but about half of them had these ugly, white worms," he lamented.

"What about the other half?" I asked.

"I became so sick to my stomach that I threw out the whole batch."

Horrified when she heard that story Jenna raced home and moved the nuts from her kitchen to the porch. The next morning they were gone. At least that's Jenna's story, and she's sticking to it.

"I think a squirrel must have run off with them," she said. It sounded a little like a dog-ate-my-homework excuse, but I didn't press the point.

Jill, who grew up on a rural area and spent much of her childhood plucking beetles from plants in a large family garden, wasn't about to be deterred by a few grubs that had found their way into hickory nuts. I had also provided her with a brick to help crack open the nuts, suggesting she use a hammer.

Jill went online and found a website featuring a guy who easily cracked the nuts between two rocks and deftly pulled whole meats from the shell, and so she tried that technique.

I also attempted that system and have concluded the guy on the website employed some sleight of hand. After some practice I was able to crack the tough shells by placing them on a flat boulder and tapping them with a 5-pound sledge hammer but never in dozens of strikes could I remove the nuts whole.

Jill also had difficulty extricating the nut meats and wound up using a lobster pick. She managed to accumulate a few cups and the other day brought in a batch of oatmeal cookies fortified with hickory nuts.

They were unbelievably tasty, in an earthy, Euell Gibbons kind of way. For the recipe and a more detailed report of Jill's hickory nut travails, check out an upcoming Spilling the Beans column.

As for me, I, too, struggled a couple hours to pry the nut meats free and finally came up with a cup or so.

I could have tried putting them into something healthy and horrible tasting, like a rutabaga and hickory nut casserole, but opted for a less nutritious but delectable concoction: a chocolate-coated candy crunch infused with hickory nuts. Here's the recipe:

2 sticks butter

1 cup sugar

3 tsp water

Pinch of salt

8 ounces of sweetened chocolate chips

Melt the butter in a saucepan and pour in the sugar, salt and water. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. When the mixture turns golden brown, add the nuts and pour onto a buttered cookie sheet. Let it cool until hard. Microwave the chocolate chips and apply like icing with a spatula. After a while, break into pieces.

The beauty of this recipe is not just its simplicity, but that you could substitute sawdust or wood chips for the hickory nuts and it would taste just as good.

I think in the future I'll probably leave the hickory nuts for the squirrels.

In the mean time, bon appetit!

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Even Elizabeth Warren All Have Something In Common: The Black SUV

Here’s how ABC News reported an appearance last week by former Florida Gov. Bush, who is considering a bid for the Republican presidential nomination:

A Snowy Hike To Carter Notch In New Hampshire's White Mountains

Midway up the staggeringly steep Wildcat Ridge Trail in New Hampshire’s White Mountains earlier this week, after my son, Tom, and I had postholed up to our knees 487 times through rotten snow despite wearing snowshoes, we began...

Ah, Spring: Moving Rocks, Lugging Logs, Digging Holes And Other Fun Activities

A 3-foot-high mound of snow still stubbornly piled beneath the deck serves as a grim reminder of this past winter’s relentless brutality, and of the months spent shoveling, shoveling, shoveling.

A Short But Sweet Eagle-Watching Season On The Lower Connecticut River

The hummingbird hovers, sparrow flutters, tern dives, duck flaps frenetically, but in the avian world the eagle soars majestically, barely moving its enormous wings while wheeling effortlessly through the heavens.

A Grand Canyon Gondola Ride – What An Idea! How About A Tram Up Mount Everest?

I don’t know about you, but I was extraordinarily excited to hear about plans to build a gondola tram that would take visitors 1.6 miles to the floor of the Grand Canyon in 10 minutes – way faster and less strenuous than...

The Magic and Misadventures of Making Maple Syrup

The instant the whirring drill bit pulled free from the trunk of a maple tree behind our house the other morning a splendid stream of sap began oozing before I had a chance to pound a metal spile into the half-inch-wide hole.

A Tough Time For Deer, But Elephants Finally Catch A Break (Sort Of)

Traipsing on snowshoes the other day through, over and around waist-high drifts in the woods behind our house I crossed a veritable superhighway of deer tracks that meandered among the rhododendron, laurel, pine, spruce and fir, and...

Death in the White Mountains: Recklessness and The False Security of GPS, Cellphones and Locator Beacons

After being battered by 70 mph winds, blinded by whipping snow and nearly frozen in temperatures that plunged to 20 below zero and beyond, Kate Matrosova must have realized early on she had no hope of completing her solo climb of four of...

You Never Miss The Water Till The Well Runs Dry — Or The Pipes Freeze

After shoveling a path to the woodshed the other day for the 138th time this season (or so it seemed) and lugging what certainly felt like the 862nd load of logs to the house and the 243rd bucket of wood stove ashes to the distant pit,...

Hey! Wanna Ride? Detroit Distance Walker James Robertson Shouldn't Look A Gift Car In The Hood, But ...

You no doubt have heard about James Robertson, the 56-year-old Detroit man who for more than a decade walked 21 miles a day to and from his factory job because he couldn’t afford a car.

Blizzard Be Damned – A Great Day To Enjoy The Outdoors

With blizzard-force winds whipping great clouds of snow across the frozen lake and waist-high drifts piled above 2 feet of still-accumulating powder, the only question was: Snowshoes or cross-country skis?