Hickory harvest!

I love Autumn.

Okay, so, this post isn’t technically about woodworking, though it does involve some tools…

In my yard I’ve got a decent size shagbark hickory tree, along with about 5 others that have spread from this “mother tree”.  Mixed in this area are a couple oaks, box elders and a smattering of chokecherries.

I have had the kids out with me the last few days, and they had a blast picking up the nuts from the big hickory tree, blown out in some pretty gusty thunderstorms a few days back. It was still breezy yesterday, so even as we collected from the ground, half a dozen or so nuts fell out of the tree above us, still partially encased in their thick green husks.

For the most part, the husks are still green, though they have nearly all split (the tree is absolutely brimming with nuts), revealing dark crosses where the husk is splitting into 4 segments. The ones closer to the ground haveb’t quite gotten there yet…

If I reach up and grab one it takes hardly any pressure at all to pull one free of it’s branch. Even my 2 year old daughter could do it!



The one Kylie has in her hand is splitting….you can see the husk seperating under her fingers.

The ones on the trees and the ones still with a husk on the ground could easly be split with one hand using just my thumb and fingers.

Then the actual nut was free.


From what I can tell by reading online, the way to harvest these things is to wash them off and do a walnut-like float test. I put the 38 nuts we had into a bucket and put a few inches of water in it. About ten of the nuts floated, the rest sank. I separated the floaters and dried everything off.

I found an idea online I liked: take a plank of wood and hollow out a little depression just big enough for a hickory nut to fit. Then take a knife and using it as a mini froe, smack it with some wire cutters to neatly slice the nut in half (the pick out the meat with…picks).

So….that’s where woodworking comes in. I thought the maple plank that formed the tool rest on my failed drill press/lathe from yesterday would make a nicely sized hickory nut cracker platform.

Plus, if I put it on it’s side…the base and the support pieces become walls to stop shell fragments from entering orbit (these things seemed to literally explode when I tried to open the first couple ones).


Instead of a little pocket knife though, I used my grandfathers chisel that I recently reground and honed. And Kroktskaft. Yep, one light tap and the chisel sliced the first victim in two!


Of course, once I started picking at the meat with the…well…pick…I quickly realized the meat did not want to exit the shell all that easily. Perhaps this is the reason behind drying them for 2 weeks.

But the sides on my little nut platform were bulky andngetting in the way. I want something convenient and portable. So the sides came off. I then took my carving chisels to the plank amd made the nut holder smoother and deeper:



And there you have it. A plank, a chisel, and a big ass (hickory, nonetheless) mallet. I can hear tye hickory nuts shake in fear….they are drying in a mesh bag in the garage for now.



At any rate, it was a fun experiment and I got to taste the meat. In a word: delicious. It tastes kind of like a buttery pecan. With a hint of walnut. My mouth is watering thinking of a pecan pie made with these babies.

So, let the cold weather come, let the nuts fall, and let the squirrels and chipmunks be put on notice. Those theivng vermin are out to take my harvest, chattering bravely at me and scampering into the underbrush along my harvest zone. I, however, have backup in the form of two screaming children out to keep the squirrels and chippers from stealing our nuts.

They spot a squirrel, scream a warning to me and charge after it, yelling “stay away squirrel”!!! Then I swoop in behind them and establish a perimeter. Finally my little savages return and happily gather nuts (mostly husks, but hey, who’s counting?). The sound of the nuts and husks hitting the bottom of our buckets almost drowns out the cursing squirrels in the branches above.





I love Autumn.


About Steven M. Vaught

A native son of Delaware, now living in Illinois, Steven is a writer, family historian, amateur astronomer, sometimes-gardener, woodworker, father to three wonderful children, husband to a wonderful wife, and caretaker of one cheeky vizsla.
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