With everyone chatting about what they want to try for next year, I've been thinking about nuts. What could grow here in costal zone 5b and almost as importantly what I would like to grow.
I've got chestnuts and Hazels planted already and the shagbark, oak and butternut are native in this area, but I've been reading about heartnuts, carpathian walnuts, hicans, northern pecans, and black walnuts.
I quickly realized that I couldn't make an good decision without tasting said varieties. So I put in a call to Cliff England and he sent me out a sampling of various nuts:
He sent me out shagbark, shellbark, black walnut, heartnut, and northern pecan, and even tossed in a few named varieties in the small bags
There might even be couple hicans in with the shagbarks given the difference in shape? I'm unfamiliar with the hican shape. Thats one below:
In terms of taste the black walnut was a very strong walnut flavor with a note that reminded me of the smell of paint, for some reason. It wasn't really unpleasant, but not what I would describe a delight to eat either. The shell was hard and tough to crack, but I don't have a proper nut cracker for them and was using a hammer and vice. The named varieties, Thomas and Meyer were a LOT easier to crack. I overdid it in fact and got a throughly crushed kernel as a result. I do think they had better flavor than the non named.
The heartnut was a dream to crack. A bit of pressure on the seam and it opened right open. In this case the named variety didn't open up as easily as the unnamed. The kernels didn't quite fall out and left little bits behind in the shell, but remained by far the easiest nut to crack. The flavor was kind of a bland walnut flavor without any bitterness and perhaps very mildly sweet.
The northern pecan cracked very easily, but not cleanly. I suspect there is a technique to it. I got lots of small pieces of nut with some quarters, but found myself picking up every single crumb. The pecans had a wonderful flavor. Sweeter and moister or perhaps oilier than other pecans I have had. (I assume the store bought pecans are southern varieties?) A delicious nut.
The Shellbark hickory was the hardest nut to crack. Even with the hammer I ended up using a dental pick to extract nutmeat from nooks a crannies. A really thick shell. I would hope most named cultivars are easier? The taste was a bit pecan-like but I found it less sweet and almost bland.
The shagbark hickory was much easier to crack than the shellbark. I didn't need to use the hammer or vice and could do it with the hand nut cracker, but that resulted in a fragmented nutmeat. Given how the taste of shagbarks is talked up I think I must have a bad batch (though I haven't tried them all yet). I wanted to spit this out as soon as I started to chew. There were musky, sour, almost rancid notes... very unpleasant.
That one that might be a hickan ( I will defer to those with actual experience in that judgment) was easy to crack and had a mild pecan flavor but not very sweet
In order of preference by taste, from this small sample:
Northern Pecan > Heartnut > Black Walnut > Shellbark > Shagbark
In order of ease of cracking:
Heartnut > Northern Pecan > Named Black Walnut > Shagbark >Black Walnut > Shellbark
What do you all think? Did I get a bad batch of Hickories? Would cracking some more and roasting change matters? Any thoughts about nuts for this area? I'm in a costal zone 5b.