We have a few Shagbark hickory trees on the property. I’m not sure if they were planted by my grandparents or not, but they have been here since the house was built, based on the pictures I have. They’re really spectacular trees for a few reasons. First, they are a very good looking tree any time of the year. In the winter, even without leaves, they have a very strong and visually appealing branch structure:
This is the first picture I took with the Polaroid, the day after we moved in.
This one was shot with my Grandfather’s 1956 Exakta 35mm SLR camera, taken in the spring.
The shagbark hickory is truly awesome, save for one small detail – every few years, it produces so many nuts the ground is covered and feels like a skating rink. Fortunately, when we got our new lawn tractor I made sure purchased a lawn sweeper. So picking these up, while a hassle, was not the end of the world.
But the best part about all those nuts? They’re edible! Hickory nuts are in the same family as a pecan. Shagbark hickory nuts are actually sweeter and tastier than pecans. So why do we all buy pecans at the store instead of hickory nuts? Economics. Hickory nuts are smaller and much more difficult to crack open and get a “half” nutmeat. For pecans this is (relatively) easy…so pecans are commercially viable to produce, but hickory nuts are not. But if you want to invest a little time (like I do) and collect and shell them yourself, you’ve got your hands on some great stuff. When it comes to using them, it’s very simple: Anything you can do with pecans, you can simply replace with hickory.
As the fall went on, and the nuts all fell off the trees, I collected a few buckets of them. A few days before Thanksgiving, Mary and I spent an hour or two in the basement cracking shells and pulling out the nut meat, and she used them to make an amazing hickory nut pie. While it was certainly a fair bit of work, the reward was worth it. A hickory pie has the same great taste of a pecan pie, but hickory nuts have a sort-of “maple” taste to them as well.
If you wanted to try your hand with hickory nuts, there are people on the Internet who sell the nuts from their lawns more or less ready to go. It is worth it.
Here’s my hickory nut cracking process: