Thursday, November 16, 2017


Shagbark hickory that is. Shagbark hickory is aptly named for its bark which, as the trees grow, breaks loose in large plates that curl away from the trunk.

Shagbark hickory can be quite large and forest-grown trees are usually tall, they can exceed 100 feet in height, and straight –

Trees growing in the open are usually wide and spreading –

Like most hickories, shagbark’s wood is strong and heavy and has traditionally been used for tool handles and chair rungs. Its compound leaves normally bear five leaflets and turn bright yellow in the fall.

But it’s not the tree, or the wood, or the leaves that especially interest me. Of most interest to yours truly are the shagbark hickory’s nuts –

The actual nut is inside a thick hull that splits into four segments –

Both shellbark and mockernut hickory also produce nuts worth gathering, but shagbark’s nuts are larger. Just be sure not to gather nuts from pignut or bitternut hickory trees; both species produce bitter unpalatable nuts.

In late September several nearby shagbark hickories provided an abundance of nuts, free for the picking. In one spot I knelt down and picked up 22 nuts without moving. It’s not every year that the trees set fruit in such abundance, shagbark hickory usually has bumper crops at three to five year intervals but, although they usually bear some nuts each year, the trees may not produce any fruit in other years. 

Nuts with a small perfectly round hole were discarded –

Those are the exit holes of weevil larvae that feed on the nutmeats and pupate over winter in the soil –

It didn’t take long to gather enough shagbark hickory nuts to fill a number of baskets.

Inside those nuts is an edible sweet nutmeat that is time consuming and tedious to extract but well worth the effort.

The nuts were rinsed and spread out to dry for a few days – then the opening commenced.

Extracting the nutmeats takes time, quite a bit of time. A light blow with a hammer easily cracks the nuts’ shells, and then it’s time to bring out the nut-pick. Extracting the nutmeats is slow work, but a good thing to do on a rainy day, in the evening or when there’s an unexciting football game on TV.

From all the nuts I gathered we retrieved 23 cups (about 5 ½ pounds) of delicious nutmeats that can be dried or frozen for later use –

Although hickory nuts can be used wherever walnuts or pecans are called for – and I think they taste better then either of those – H uses them to make absolutely delicious cookies. Here’s her not so secret recipe –

Hickory Nut Cookies
          ½ cup butter or margarine
          6 tablespoons brown sugar
          6 tablespoons granulated sugar
          1 egg
          ½ teaspoon vanilla
          1 ¼ cups sifted all-purpose flour
          1 teaspoon baking powder
          ¼ teaspoon each baking soda and salt
          1 cup chopped hickory nuts
Mix butter and sugars together until smooth, then beat in the egg and vanilla. Sift dry ingredients together and then blend into the smooth mix. Stir in the nuts. Place teaspoon size beads of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375° for 10-12 minutes. Makes 2 ½ dozen cookies.

And the results –

When the trees start dropping their fruit speed is of the essence since mice, chipmunks, squirrels, wild turkeys and black bears quickly consume the nuts. If you don’t have ready access to shagbark hickory trees, nutmeats can be purchased commercially for $40-$60 a pound.


The Furry Gnome said...

That bark is so unique! Not many Shagbark Hickories in southwrn Ontario, though I have seen a few.

Robert Folzenlogen said...

Great post, from tree to cookies. Thanks for the recipe. Will have to use different nuts out here in Colorado or sell the cookies for a hefty price!

Out To Pasture said...

Those shelled Shagbark hickory nuts look a little like butternut meats. Do they have a similar taste? Thanks for the recipe!

Camera Trap Codger said...

Thanks for the post -- it brought back fond memories of foraging in northern Virginia's for berries, nuts, pawpaws, and persimmons.