There is a farm that connects to our property at the back; years ago when we moved in we got permission from the farmer to walk a certain section because it’s fairly unattainable for him. It’s a stretch on the same ridge as our property sits that juts out for a ways to a point, whereas most of the farmer’s fields are down on a lower level.
Papa has kept it mowed and it makes a wonderful short walking path, especially now that the pathway is all moss-covered. I think the farmer used to graze cattle up on that level which kept the larger brush down, but now it’s starting to get overgrown with small trees.
This time of year it’s great to walk down the path to see the buck rubs … and look for nuts. We don’t really harvest nuts on their property, but there is one fine example of a shagbark hickory tree I wanted to show you.
A couple of years ago, Papa had tried a hickory nut on our property and found that it was horribly bitter and so we didn’t try again. However, recently Little Chick found one and wanted to try it. So we taste-tested it and it tasted wonderful! I knew there were differences in hickory trees, so I made it my homework that day to figure out the differences.
It turns out that there are some hickory nuts that are terribly bitter (it may be that Papa just had a bad one that year) but some are edible. Even the ones that are bitter – you can save the nuts and use them for smoking meats! (mmm … hickory bacon)
What we needed to make sure to find was a Shagbark hickory tree. It’s fairly evident when you see the bark why it’s called that. It’s quite distinctive from other trees.
They have lovely, thick foliage for excellent shade. This is the tree that sits over the top of the chicken coop. At first I didn’t think the tree on our property was a shagbark which would be a shame since it’s so handy. However, it was just hard to see the “shag” with all the leaves and it wasn’t as evident on the lower trunk.
Hickory leaves are large in size. I forgot to add a size reference for this leaf but it’s probably 9-10″ in length.
Like black walnuts, hickory nuts have an outer husk covering it when it falls from the tree. Unlike the walnut though, it doesn’t make a horrible mess when the husk decomposes. It just dries up and breaks apart … or gets chewed of by critters.
We had to make quick work in harvesting as we had stiff competition. I thought that since they hadn’t dropped to the ground, they weren’t ready yet, but Papa pointed out that the squirrels were forcing them to the ground, so they must be.
This is our first year harvesting hickory nuts, so we’re not experienced on how well they store or the best ways to extract the meat, but we’re learning. We harvested a solid 2 lbs – maybe more (including the husks) so I’m hoping that will add to our good eating this winter.