The flavor and texture of a black walnut makes it one of the most popular nuts used by cooks throughout the country. Whether a professional pastry chef, a hobbyist cook or simply someone who enjoys food, you find that adding walnuts to baked goods brings another dimension to the recipe altogether.
In mid-Missouri, walnut trees have a healthy presence. The large green husks of black walnuts can be found along park sidewalks, in residential neighborhoods and underfoot in backyards. Some residents use the volume of walnut trees to their advantage.
Arlene Gieselman, a Slater resident and volunteer at Concordia Senior Center, is one who's enjoyed the harvest for approximately 10 years. As of this past week, she's sold 1,490 pounds of walnuts.
"I started (collecting them) around the last week of September," she said. "They buy until around the first of November, or whenever it goes to freezing."
Gieselman collects walnuts from various locations, including trees on her property, neighbors' and even in the village of Arrow Rock. From there, she loads them into dozens of buckets and boxes, and then hauls them to Bernard True Value Lumber and Hardware, in Sweet Springs.
"You take them there. They hull them, and then they weigh them," she explained.
Bernard Lumber currently pays 14 cents per pound after the walnuts are hulled.
Before harvest, when black walnuts are still encased in their husks, they look much different than the crushed topping customers sprinkle over ice cream.
On the branch, they measure approximately two inches in diameter. As they ripen, the husk often changes from solid green to more of a yellow or even black. Collecting can be a messy task that often requires wearing gloves. Darker husks can be an indication of insects. According to the University of Minnesota Extension, two pounds of unshelled black walnuts will yield approximately one cup of nut meats.
Walnuts found in the wild can be cured and stored at home, if one prefers. The husk can be removed by hitting it with a hammer, among other methods. The unshelled nuts should then be rinsed and can be cured from there. The Extension recommends stacking them in shallow layers and placing them in a cool, dry area out of direct sunlight for two weeks.
While some are inclined to cure and store walnuts for personal use, the collection is the hobby for Gieselman.
"I like being out in the fresh air," she said. "It makes me feel good. You hear the birds singing and the dogs barking. If you're out late enough, you hear the coyotes."