For the past five autumns we’ve watched squirrels devour the hundreds of butternuts that fall from the huge butternut trees in our neighborhood. Butternuts have a high oil content, providing a lot of calories to the squirrels in the form of fat and protein.
The nuts have a large green husk that contains a dye powerful enough that it was used in the mid-19th century to color cloth. Squirrels in our neighborhood sport a dark goatee each October as the dye from the husks stains the fur around their mouths.
Harvesting butternuts is a family tradition. My mom tells me that Grandpa had a stump out back that he used to break them open. The stump had a hollowed out area to hold one nut at a time. He hit each one with a hammer then painstakingly removed the small nut meat from the shells.
This year, rather than watch the squirrels make off with all the bounty, we decided to harvest a few butternuts for ourselves. Wrapped up under our Christmas tree this year I found an industrial-strength nut cracker, from Jim.
We dried our nuts on the front porch and used gloves to remove the husks so we wouldn’t have brown hands for the next month.
Our new nut cracker goes through those tough shells like butter! Picking out the meat is time consuming but a good project while having a visit by the fire.
Butternuts are considered very rich, and have a delicious flavor. We have found they do not need to be roasted, they taste great as is.
This year we only ended up with about half a cup of nuts, so we’ll just eat them fresh, but in future years we hope to harvest enough to store. They must be frozen for long-term storage or they turn rancid.
We hope that using the nuts from the butternut tree is just the beginning. We have heard that butternut sap can be boiled down to a syrup, much like maple. We’ve also read that the bark can be used to brew beer and a tea can be made from it that works as a laxative. What a treasure we have in these trees right in our own back yard!