Good Times and Hickory Nuts

| 10/6/2014 11:30:00 AM

Tags: Hickory Nuts, Depression Era, Pecans, Iowa, Shagbark, Fresh Food, Renee-Lucie Benoit,

Renee-Lucie BenoitI was lucky enough to have grown up in Iowa in a family that honored old timey ways, including hunting for hickory nuts. Many of you will know what I’m talking about. My dad was an avid hunter and regularly brought rabbits, squirrels, pheasants, ducks and fish to the table. He hunted with bow and arrow when he went after deer. Once he got a moose in Canada with his buddies. We ate moose for a year, and I still remember the kind of dry but tasty quality of the roasts Mom prepared. My mom was adept at canning, and they both worked hard in their garden. We kids learned to “pitch in.” We also learned how tasty fresh food was that was gotten by our own efforts.

Red Hickory tree | Creative Commons/Tom Nagy

A Red Hickory tree, located in southern Ontario, Canada. Photo: Creative Commons/Tom Nagy

One of the best things we did every year was “hickory nutting.” We’d all pile in the car with our burlap bags and go to a local woods on the land of a farmer we knew. Some place where the trees had not been bulldozed to plant corn, soybeans or alfalfa. It would be in the fall, usually in October. It would be after the frost and there would be no mosquitoes or flies. The nuts would have fallen, and the hulls were mostly separated from the nuts.

The day would be crisp and clear, and it was lovely underneath the big, old trees. I mean, these trees must have been old because they were big. Really big! My dad called them Shagbark hickories, and he knew when to go and what trees produced the best from year to year. Dad knew that some trees could bloom earlier in spring and then frost might keep them from producing. He also knew that some trees held their nuts into winter while others dropped in early autumn. So we’d go when Dad said, and little by little we learned how to become good “nutters” ourselves.

By experience we discovered that all nuts are not created equal. We found that a large nut might not have any more nutmeat than a smaller one. We found that just because the hull or shell might be thick, it didn’t necessarily mean that the nutmeat was going to be bigger either. We did find that the thinner the shell the easier it was to crack. There were different color nutmeats, and I always liked the taste of the lighter colored meats. I still do.

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