[caption id="attachment_10356" align="alignleft" width="225"]<a href="http:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2015\/10\/IMG_3401.web_.jpg"><img src="http:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2015\/10\/IMG_3401.web_-225x300.jpg" alt="Black walnuts In their hulls resemble large limes.\u2008 L.D. Bennett photo" width="225" height="300" class="size-medium wp-image-10356" \/><\/a> Black walnuts In their hulls resemble large limes.\u2008 L.D. Bennett photo[\/caption]\r\nLaura Dean Bennett\r\nContributing Writer\r\n\r\nThis time of year, our black walnut trees are dropping their hulls by the bushel, and it\u2019s time to gather them, but you\u2019ll have to hurry if you\u2019re going to beat the the squirrels.\r\nBlack walnuts\u00a0are walnuts with original American character. They are native to the U.S. and Canada, growing wild throughout the eastern deciduous forests. Black walnut is \u201cthe\u201d American walnut tree.\u00a0\r\nTheir nuts were a staple of the Native American diet here, along with our other wild nuts \u2013 hickories, chestnuts and butternuts.\u00a0The black walnut was, in fact, an important source of protein in Native American diets.\u00a0They were often ground with water into a nutritious nut \u201cmilk\u201d that would be drunk plain or added into soups.\r\nAnd our ancestors also made good use of this nutritious food. Besides learning to use them in all the same ways as did Native Americans, early settlers even ground the precious nutmeats into flour. Nothing about black walnuts\u00a0need to wasted \u2013 hulls have been used to make dyes and walnut wood stains for hundreds of years.\r\nBlack walnut trees grow wild from Massachusetts all the way south to Florida, and west to Texas and Nebraska. They can be found on old farms and along the edges of woods, often in groves. Summer is the easiest time to locate them, when their fern-like feather-compound leaf structure is on display and the green fruits containing the nuts (they resemble large limes) can be spotted from a distance. These \u201chulls\u201d drop to the ground in the fall when they\u2019re ripe \u2013 in September or October.\r\nThese days, the walnuts that most Americans usually eat are English walnuts. \u201cEnglish\u201d walnuts\u00a0are actually native to the Middle East and Asia. Though English walnuts and black walnuts are related, they\u2019re miles apart in flavor.\r\nBecause English walnuts are easier to grow commercially, they cost less. They have a much milder taste than black walnuts. Add that to the fact that they have shells that a person can crack with a nutcracker, and it\u2019s fairly easy to understand why they have become the favorite of most consumers.\u00a0\r\nBlack walnuts, on the other hand, are the ornery sort.\u00a0\r\nTheir hulls require some effort to break through. Although most people have success by rolling the hills arums under foot to loosen the hulls away from the shells, many\u00a0advocate collecting them in feed bags and driving over them with a car to break through their tough exterior. \r\nI\u2019m not kidding. \r\nAnd, remember, unless you are wearing gloves, tearing and peeling away the hulls will stain your hands like dark brown shoe polish.\u00a0\r\nThen you are up against it again when it comes to shelling them.\u00a0\r\nTheir shells are almost impenetrable \u2013 like black cement, thick and tough to crack. A nutcracker will have no effect, but a hammer or a vice will get the job done. And once you get into them, their nutmeats are smaller than their English cousins, requiring more work again.\u00a0\r\nBut to many of us here in the Appalachians who grew up with the taste of black walnuts, the extra work is well worth it.\u00a0\r\nBlack walnuts are considered a delicacy and are often used in high-end restaurants in dishes with a hefty price. They sell for fifteen to twenty dollars a pound raw.\r\nFortunately, black walnuts are found in abundance in Pocahontas County, offering themselves for the price of a little \u2013 okay, a lot \u2013 of elbow grease.\u00a0\r\nBlack walnuts are healthy little fortresses of protein and fatty acid. Their uniquely bold, earthy flavor is still integral to many old-fashioned recipes, both savory and sweet. No English walnut can come close to their strong taste.\u00a0\r\nBack in my grandmother\u2019s day, starting around Thanksgiving, family recipes calling for black walnuts would start being dug out of cookbooks, envelopes and kitchen drawers. My mom, of course, followed suit, making sure that a few favorite black walnut recipes were never overlooked.\r\nCome cold weather, cakes, cookies and fudge that during the rest of the year could manage nicely without them, now needed the traditional flavor of black walnuts. Mom could find lots of uses for them on a Thanksgiving or Christmas table and in lots of winter foods. They\u2019d\u00a0be sprinkled in with the brown sugar on butternut squash and sweet potato casseroles. They\u2019d add an earthy zest sprinkled on top of a green salad and a rich touch in a molded jello salad, too.\u00a0\r\nBut first we had to get them out of those hulls.\u00a0\r\nAnd there they sat, stored in paper bags behind the kitchen door on the back porch, waiting to be worked up. This was not a job for just anyone \u2013 it took experience, patience and persistence. Thankfully, Daddy had those qualities in spades.\u00a0\r\nI remember him soaking the hulls in five gallon plastic buckets for several days, changing the water frequently, then\u00a0taking them around back wrapped in burlap, where he\u2019d hull them by whacking them with the flat side of an ax on the chopping block. Sometimes a few stubborn husks had to be encouraged to let go with a wire brush.\u00a0\r\nThen back to the porch he\u2019d come, where he would spend countless hours cracking their shells with the vice down in the basement or a hammer on a cinder block. If he wasn\u2019t wearing gloves, his hands would have been stained black for days.\r\nTo keep them from molding, the de-husked walnut shells were left in the sun to dry in a single layer on paper lined trays for about two weeks. If you cracked one and the meat came out dry and oily, it meant they were ready to process.\r\nThat meant it was time to \u201cpick out the meats.\u201d And that was another tedious job.\r\nAnd we didn\u2019t throw away those hulls \u2013 oh, no! Not with \u201cWaste\u00a0not, want not\u201d as the family credo.\u00a0Crushed up, soaked in water and with the addition of plain ammonia, black walnut hulls would make an beautiful walnut wood stain. \u00a0\r\nIf you ever decide to plant a black walnut tree in your yard, be sure to remember that these trees contain a toxic substance called juglone in their roots which will prevent many other plants and vegetables from successfully growing under their canopy. Always leave plenty of room between a black walnut tree and any other landscaping or garden.\r\nIf you\u2019ve never tried cooking or baking with black walnuts, you might like to start with my Aunt Lizzie\u2019s black walnut fudge or my grandmother\u2019s black walnut cake. Of course, English walnuts can be substituted for the black walnuts in these recipes, if you must.\r\nWhile I can\u2019t promise you\u2019ll prefer the bold \u2013 and some say bitter \u2013 flavor of black walnuts to the gentle taste of\u00a0English walnuts, I do promise that you\u2019ll taste the difference.\u00a0\r\n\r\nGrandmom\u2019s Black \r\nWalnut Bundt Cake\r\n3 cups all-purpose flour\r\n1 teaspoon baking powder\r\n1 teaspoon baking soda\r\n1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter or margarine, softened\r\n1 \u00bd cups granulated sugar\r\n3 eggs\r\n1 cup buttermilk\u00a0\r\n\r\n1 cup black walnuts, chopped finely\u00a0\r\n1.\u00a0Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan or tube pan.\r\n2.\u00a0Sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda.\r\n3.\u00a0Beat butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs. Beat well, then add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately. Stir in nuts.\r\n4.\u00a0Transfer into pan and smooth the top. Bake until done, about 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.\r\n5.\u00a0Let cool 5 to 10 minutes, then turn out of pan.\u00a0\r\nFor the Icing:\r\nIn a small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter and syrup over medium heat. Whisk into the hot mixture, 1\/4 C maple syrup (grade 3 is best) and 1 C confectioners sugar until smooth. While still slightly warm, pour over cooled cake.\r\n\r\nAunt Lizzie\u2019s \r\nBlack Walnut Fudge\r\n3 cups white sugar\r\n3 Tbs. cocoa powder\r\n3 Tbs. butter\r\n1 1\/2 cups sweet whole milk\u00a0\r\ndash of salt\r\n1 Tbs. pure vanilla extract\r\n1 cup black walnuts, chopped fine\r\n\u00a0In a heavy saucepan combine the sugar, cocoa, butter, milk and salt and cook until it reaches the \u201csoft ball\u201d stage. Best to use a candy thermometer and test until it reads 240 degrees Fahrenheit, but you can also drop some in cold water and see if it forms a ball to test it.\u00a0\r\nRemove from heat and add the vanilla.\u00a0 Beat until creamy. Stir in the nuts and pour into a buttered 8\u201dx 8\u201d dish and allow to cool.\u00a0 Cut into squares.