Entertainment And Fun In The 1930s
Appalachian Grammar Lesson 1

Cracking Black Walnuts

Cracking black walnuts 

Black Walnuts are for sure a hard nut to crack-as I said before many people think they are too much of a pain in the neck to even fool with. In the last Black Walnut post-we discussed different ways folks use to remove the outer green hull from the actual Black Walnut. After the outer hull is removed the walnuts should be allowed to dry or cure for at least a few weeks.

How to crack black walnuts 
Black walnut shells are unusually hard. Probably the most common method people use to crack them-is a hammer. Granny and Pap used to have concrete blocks for their front steps-I remember Granny sitting out there on the steps with a hammer cracking out her walnuts. She'd crack the nuts open-placing the shells in a big bowl and when she had the bowl full she'd sit and watch tv and pick out the goodies.

Homemade walnut cracker 

About 10 years ago, one of Granny's brother-n-laws made her the walnut cracker in the photo above. You'd have thought he gave her a million dollars-she was so happy. Kinda made me feel bad that I had never thought to buy her one myself.

Black walnut cracker 
I'm not exactly sure how he made it-I believe the ridged gear piece is part of a car fly wheel.

Easiest way to crack black walnuts 
You place a walnut in the rounded slot-pull the handle and it cracks right open-so easy. Back when Granny first got the cracker-she wouldn't let anyone borrow it-not even me. When I asked to borrow it-She'd say-"I'll crack them for you-cause I don't want my cracker to get tore up."

Using a vise to crack walnuts 

Jim Casada shared how his family used to crack black walnuts with me:

Over the years my family and me have cracked black walnuts two ways:  (1) Place a nut in a vise and tighten until it cracks thoroughly.  (2) Place the nut atop a closed vise, an anvil, or a similar surface and crack with a hammer. Either way, we would crack a great batch all at one time, and then the whole family would be involved in picking out the nut meats. 

Charles Fletcher shared his memories of cracking Black Walnuts with me too:

In Canton we had two types of walnuts-black and soft shell. The black were the old traditional and the soft were similar to pecans but they had the shell of the black walnut. The walnuts as I knew them are fast vanishing from the lumber companies chopping every one they find. We also piled the nuts in the roadway for removing the hull. Come cracking time on some cold winter day everyone had a hammer and a stone for getting that next cake and sometimes candy of molasses and walnut goodies. Cracking was not considered a chore. Just fun and good eating.

Cracking open black walnuts 

Whichever method you use to crack Black Walnuts-be careful of flying shell pieces-wearing a pair of safety glasses is probably a good idea.

Now you know how to gather them-and how to crack them-coming soon I'll show you some of my favorite ways to eat them.

If you have experience cracking Black Walnuts-please leave a comment and tell us what you know.


p.s. I want to say a big THANK YOU to all the Blind Pig readers who came out to the festival at Brasstown Valley Resort-you absolutely made my day!

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Dad made the one I use. A friend gave me about 4 five gal. buckets. They were from the previous fall(8 months ago) and are all black and nasty looking. I thought these must be no good. The nuts needed a tap or two with a hammer then shuck easily by hand. Ithought since they were black I would get the usual stain. There was "none".
Dad's home made cracker has a handle like the one we used to see in grade school on a paper slicer. The long cast iron handle offers good leverage. The touch (cracking pressure) is similar the touch needed to crack an egg on the edge of a cast iron frying pan. Just the right amount. It's a skill.---The business top part has two cracking spots. The smaller for hickory nuts and the larger for the walnuts. The business bottom part has knurled cross-check pattern to prevent nuts from getting away. Man, I do them one at a time in my garage with 60's and 70's music playing and watch the jealous squirrels stare at me.


Thank you for the comment! Black Walnuts are for sure a labor intensive nut to fool with : )

Hope you have a great week!

I have two mature black walnut trees on my property and have tried to take the hull off,however I think the cracking of the nut is a little easier.I still do,nt know how to get the hull off without a great deal of difficulty.

I have cracked and picked and frozen about 20 pounds of black walnuts this year. I had more last year but this year they seemed to be smaller. Love walnut cakes. In summer I make vanilla ice cream and add a table spoon pf walnut extract to the mix and chop up about a cup of black walnuts and add to the mix. Supper good

A new invention for getting large kernels of Black Walnuts is the Walnut Saw - check out their website at www.walnutsaw.com. Most of the time you can get the nutmeat out in halves without crushing the nut.

Have you tried collecting them with a Bag-A-Nut! What a time saver. You can find them on their web site www.baganut.com

i love black walnuts !! everything that you have to do to get them in your belly is a great stress reducer. the hike to to the tree, being outside picking them up, and then the work it takes to to get the husk off,( i use a jack knife and save them in water to make a really good dye), but the cracking of the shell..that is the best, i use a pair of lock jaw pliers, but i would love to have some sort of cracker. After i get through all the rough stuff , the meat is well worth it !

You'll probably laugh at this, but our dad brought some home once. All proud and happy, he started trying to crack those things. He'd hit them with a hammer, and ping - they'd fly across the room. Finally mom told him cut it out before he put an eye out.

Not to be undone, he put them all in an old pillowcase, took them out to the drive and ran them over with the truck. That did it - for most of 'em.

Then we tasted them and whoooeee, they were bitter as the day was long. So he put them in a batch of homemade fudge thinking God only knows what, and that was bitter too.

We never did eat those things or the fudge, and he never brought any home again either.

I have cracked many black walnuts and I remember one Christmas when I was five, my grandmother cracked enough black walnuts to buy my aunt and me both a large doll... She sold the walnuts at the store. I still have my doll.....
When you are going to crack black walnuts, you have to let them dry out before you want to crack them. I always use a hammer and a rock..... The walnut should be turned so the pointed end is up and you hit directly on that to avoid making mush of the walnuts. Most of the time, you can get whole pieces out if you hit the end instead of the middle.

The only way I've ever cracked them is with a hammer and a hard surface. I'd love to have a walnut cracker like Grannies. I have a similar one I use for pecans, but I don't think it's built sturdy enough to crack walnuts.

Actually there is a way to get one of the nut crackers pictured. There is a gentleman who lives in Andrews, NC who makes these. I have one and it is great. His name is Austin Derreberry and his phone is 828-321-5884.

That is a neat nut cracker she has. I'm still cracking mine. It's so cold now, tho, I'll probably have to finish doing them in the garage. I've always just used a hammer and a hard surface (such as the driveway). They are so good. I use them in just about every recipe that calls for nuts. They are very expensive if you buy them in the store.

Love black walnuts esp in a cake with molassses in the cake..yum. As I remember, my attempt at cracking black walnuts as a chil lasted for maybe a mere ten minutes. LOL Sad to say, we "crack" our black walnuts at Sam's now.....they have them available during Christmas and I'm buying a bag everytime we go and freeze them.

We crack black walnuts on the concrete porch...then take them in and watch TV and pick out the nut meat..love Black Walnut bread.
Treasure that handmade nutcracker Granny, it is a very useful collectible...Did you know many people collect different types of nut crackers....everytime I got an unusual one (or not) it would sell in no time....that also applies to table nut dish holders that had the hand cracker and picks...
Thanks for the post Tipper...

Couldn't have described it better than Ken....Thanks Tipper for "all" that you provide through this great site.

The show was by far the best we've seen...


I have to find out the difference in regular walnuts and black's taste- I am waiting for mine to come from VA- Lisa told me they crack them under their car wheels, which made me laugh, a whole lot of work for them right?

daddy had a nut cracker similar to this,he had it on a specail stool he built so he could sit astride it to crack gazillions of pecans, he had 3 very large and old pecan trees on his property. not near as hard to crack as walnuts

Sur-I'm glad you reminded me-Granny used a bobby pin too : )

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I am not a big walnut fan so I have never cracked a black one. I'm just glad peanuts and pistachios aren't that difficult to get into! :)

That's a lot of work. You've got to love Black Walnuts!

We have several black walnut trees on our farm but cracking the nuts was so hard then if you did manage to crack one, all you could do was scrape out a few slivers. I gave up on them as a kid & never did try to crack one again. Maybe it's time to give it another shot.


Wow, that is some nutcracker! A truly awesome creation.

Tipper--Don't know why I didn't think of it before when posting, but butternuts were sometimes called white walnuts by old-timers. They are oblong in shape, have a surface much like that of a black walnut, and are good to eat. However, to my way of thinking they don't have anything like the distinctive and delightful taste of black walnuts. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced the "soft" walnuts Charles Fletcher mentioned are butternuts. I'll bet Pap knows the whereabouts of some butternut trees and he'll almost certainly be familiar with the butternut.
Jim Casada

Well The way I done it was I cracked a cake pan full on the sidewalk and then sat them on the floor behind the wood stove and then after the kids went to bed I would pick out all the "goodies" and just had to have a bobby pin for them stubborn ones to get out!LOL

Aren't too many (actually there are NONE) black walnut trees here in South Florida, but I remember them when I was a kid in Tennessee with the messy green, soon to turn black, husks. They have a great taste. All this talk about black walnuts inspired me to buy some black walnut ice cream the other day. I forgot how incredible that flavor is.

That's a stout-looking walnut cracker, for sure!

Glad you had a good time at the festival. If I lived close,I'd have joined you. Like Granny's nut cracker. Looks like it can get the job done. Wish I had a piece of walnut cake and a cup of coffee.

Great pictures of Granny's Walnut
Cracker. I know how she feels about not loaning it and I don't
blame her at all. But I'll make
one for you soon.
Jim Casada is right about the
butternut tree. We had several when I was a youngster, but all are dead now from a disease.
Really enjoyed the Brasstown
Resort crafts and folkart displays. Most of us 'Acorns' of
the Blind Pig only know of your
writing skills, but I've always
told my friends "you're our
Martha Stewart of the mountains."

tipper: black warnuts, as my good ole dad called um,were good any way you cracked them. my sister has a giant tree just behind her house. even though its about 60 years old it still puts out plenty ,and you have to fight the gray and black squirrels,and those pesky jay,s . they sure go good in about any cake or in your oatmeal ,in the cold winter mornings. don't mind my rambling please. k.o.h

I love your Granny's nut cracker! No way you could buy one like it. I bet all those goodies made from those walnuts are so good. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

So good to hear that you had a good show! My favorite job between Thanksgiving and Christmas was crackin' and choppin' the nuts for my mom.

I love black walnuts, perhaps next year I will be able to gather some and make my own cake.

Tipper: When we were kids (ELEVEN IN ALL) we would go with daddy to the 'cross-tie hollow' and gather the walnuts. From his early days (b. 1900 on Tusquittee) he knew you did not waste a thing during the harvesting season! So cracking walnuts around the fire place was our way of passing the cold November evenings! Mama's black walnut cake was our reward for a good job!

Eva Nell

Tipper--I'd need a little more detail, but I'm pretty sure the "soft walnuts" Charles Fletcher describes are acutally butternuts. He's certianly right that they are largely gone from the landscape. The value of the lovely wood with its buttery finish and soft patina is one reason, as Charles suggests. Also, some type of blight or fungus is affecting butternuts. In fact, my brother, Don, ran into a researcher working on butternut disease this summer during one of his hikes (it was on Noland Creek). Good stuff, as always.
Jim Casada

We have several feed sacks of walnuts to crack.
We are enjoying our Wilson Family Christmas CD!!!!

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