Black Walnuts are a Wild Crop To Forage
Black walnut is a name (generic term) for the wild walnuts native to North America. There are several species, one main species east of the Rocky Mountains, and several other species in California, Arizona, Texas and Mexico. These nuts grow widely in the Midwest, and many other eastern and southern states throughout the U.S.A. Even as far north as Minnesota and Canada have black walnuts thriving in the wild, as well as residential areas.
Black walnuts nuts are known for their incredible, rich fruity flavor. Their gourmet taste is popular and sought-after. However, in the nut industry, they are the hardest nut to crack. That is why they are rarely used as an ingredient in commercial restaurants and foods.
However, collecting and processing black walnuts is a big business in the Midwest, especially in Missouri and neighboring states. Processors harvest the nuts and the shells. The hard shells are sought after in commercial scrubbing and cleaning supplies, cat litter and much more. Because of this, harvested bulk nuts are available for purchase.
Black Walnuts have a stronger flavor than the cultivated English walnut, that some describe as “fruitier” and more flavorful. Fans of the nut describe their taste as wilder, concentrated, and even a touch more bitter. To many, they taste amazingly wonderful!
Common walnuts you buy in stores are English (also called Persian) walnuts. These are larger and easier to shell than black walnuts. The difference in taste has also been compared to the difference between cream and skim milk, grouse and chicken, a wild strawberry and one of those huge, big-farm strawberries cultivated in California or Mexico. The taste of black walnuts is simply different. A better different.
A handful of black walnuts are excellent to eat plain or used when baking a cake, cookies, brownie. or even used in a cream sauce on a chicken or grouse breast. Options for black walnut recipes are seemingly endless, many of which don't require a lot of walnuts, due to their rich flavor. The flavor is also so good and strong that many recipes say just half the number of black walnuts will fully replace the flavor of English walnuts. Many prefer black walnuts over regular ones any time without question.
You can find sources to purchase shelled black walnuts, or you can shell them yourself. Harvesting nuts and fruits, plus processing them into ingredients is not an easy task, it does require a lot of time, resources and some tools.
Access to black walnuts is typically free. You can find them forging on public land, and many private landowners will grant you permission to take them. Truth be told, blankets of black walnuts on lawns and fields are quite messy and cumbersome. Especially for lawn mowers. They can also stain driveways and sidewalks or twist an ankle if someone has an accident when stepping on them. They can be seen as a ugly, messy, nuisance and people are likely to want them collected and gone. The opportunity to forage for black walnuts is out there. Go for it!