Sunday, November 1, 2015

Shellbark Hickory

Shellbark Hickory leaves and nuts

     Shellbark Hickories (Carya laciniosa) are actually not native to our region, but have been widely planted. We found a very large one in of our parks. I had always wanted to try to eat them before and so decided to collect some. While all hickory nuts are edible, some are not supposed to be worth it. Thin shelled (hulled) nuts tend to be the least appetizing. Bitternut Hickories for example are named this for a reason, and Pignut Hickories are supposed to be only fit for pigs. Shellbark, much like Pecans, are thick hulled hickories on the other hand that have a reputation for being tasty.

Shellbark is the largest of our hickory nuts

     Shellbark Hickory nuts are also the largest of our hickory nuts. Unlike Mockernut Hickories, which also appear large, they do not "mock" you with small bits of meat. This is what I'd heard anyways, as well as how they can be tricky to crack just right to get at the meat but not crush them into tiny little pieces. 

Shellbark nuts and leaf

     So I collected a small bagful, feeling lucky to have beat the squirrels to them. Some had hulls still on them, others had already shed them. I cracked a few in my basement using a hammer, with various levels of success. After trying three of them, I was not impressed however. The meat did not look that appetizing and didn't taste very good at all. I wondered if I was getting the best nuts, specially after going through the trouble of trying to crack them just right. 
     It was then I recalled a way to test nuts for germination. You can float test nuts, sticking them in water. If they float, then they likely have air holes, insects or insect frass, and/or are rotten or have old meat. Those that sink have the best chance of being whole and best chance to germinate. It seemed that I could use the same test to figure out which nuts were worth cracking and which floated instead. Only about a third, after removing their thick hulls, I  was disappointed to find out, sank to the bottom and thus supposedly would be good to eat.

A float test, the ones that float are not likely to be good to eat or to germinate.

     But they were quite tasty indeed. My family enjoyed the small but worthwhile harvest. I still need practice opening them, but think I've saved some time by float testing them first. I also now will have to test all the other hickory nuts we have growing locally to see which other ones I can enjoy...

Shellbark Hickory nut meat

Here's a comparison between a Mockernut Hickory (right), which is among the largest of our hickory nuts, and Shellbark on the left. Keep in mind that though the shells are big in Mockernut, they "mock" you cause there's very little meat inside. 

Shellbark Hickory in Fall color...

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