OMG, Hickory Nuts!

Hickory nuts-- Where have you been my whole life?!

This morning, I cracked open a large hickory nut I gleaned from wild trees on my mountain property. I think this nut is from a shagbark hickory (I have shagbark, pignut, and mockernut species on my property, but I found this nut under a stand of shagbarks). ID confirmation coming soon. I had picked this nut off the ground a few weeks ago and let it dry for a few weeks before cracking it today.

Anyway, this thing was flippin’ DELICIOUS !!! Like the sweetest most buttery pecan I’ve ever had !!!

I cannot believe how delicious these are !!! Folks, this is the pecan of the north !!!

Pecans are revered in the Deep South and Southwest as one of America’s most reliable and profitable cash crops of all time. But hickory trees can survive much colder temperatures and are native as far north as Canada!

In the past, all the hickory nuts I’ve ever eaten where either moldy or malformed (unpollinated abortions?), but this morning’s eating experience was nothing less than life-changing. I cannot express in words how excited I am. First chance I get, I’m going back to pick up every fully-formed hickory nut I can find throughout my entire 7.5-acre property. These things are incredible! How are these things not a bigger part of northern-tier American life and culture? I am blown away.

3 pics of this morning’s hickory nut:


You’re the 2nd person in 24 hours to say how good they are…guess I’m going foraging!


Stark use to sell a hybrid between the Shagbark and Pecan. I have no idea what quality the nut is. We have what I’m sure is the same nut that you have in my area and it is sometimes referred to as Scaly-Bark hickory. Has a great taste. Bill

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I have several Hickory in my yard but they are too small to be worth the trouble to crack.
When I was growing up my parents knew where there was some trees that had HUGE nuts and I had to pick them up and dig the goody out every year! LOL!

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Went back to my lot in the mountains today searching for more hickory nuts!

Removing the husks was a hassle, but not nearly as much trouble as black walnuts.

I picked up approx 100 nuts-- a mix of shagbark and pignut. Only about 30 of the nuts passed the “float test.” If the nut floats in water, then discard as it is either malformed or bug-ridden. If the nut sinks in water, then keep it:

The good ones are sitting in a large porcelian bowl to dry. I really should let them dry for 2 weeks, but I decided to jump the gun. I opened two pignuts with the sort of crab-legs cracker-vise you’d find at a seafood restaurant (the pignuts proved easier to crack than the shagbarks, which require a hammer).

The pignuts were DELICIOUS !!! Even my wife agreed, and she is picky. They have a power-punch of pecan-like flavor. Sweet, oily, tannic and richly flavored. I am amazed!

Drawbacks are that the pignuts are generally smaller, and the nutmeats really are hard to extract.


Roasted hickory nuts is very popular in China, not exactly the U.S hickory, but a Chinese hickory. Nut is about nickle to quarter size , round. A lot of effect to take the meat out, but it is delicious. I will have business trip to China next week, will bring back some to post picture here.

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The pecan/hickory hybrids are called hicans. I have some of both crosses - pecanXshagbark & pecanXshellbark. They’re vigorous growers, but typically ‘shy’ bearers, and often nut kernels are not well-filled. Shell thickness is intermediate between the parent species - a little thicker than typical pecan, but a lot easier to crack than most hickories. Kernel flavor also intermediate.
I’ve got plenty of room to grow them, but if I had limited space, I’d opt for pecans &/or good hickories, and wouldn’t bother with hicans


I planted a couple named variety shagbarks last year. They are both on pecan roots. For some reason one of them rejected the graft and died, but the rootstock sent up a wild pecan.

The other one is still alive so far, but didn’t grow much this year. If it survives, maybe I’ll get to taste some of the nuts before my life’s end.

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You can let that pecan understock grow for a couple of years, then re-graft it to hickory, if you’re so inclined.

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I’ve only had a hickory nut once, while visiting my wife’s relatives in Illinois. It was delicious. How fortunate to have them growing naturally.

I’d gladly trade the dozen or so beaked hazelnuts for a couple of hickory trees. It sounds like there are some that could ripen in our short season, but I’m not sure if I’m up for waiting 10-15 years to find out.


Thanks Lucky,

That’s something to consider, but I just have one shag cultivar now. The nursery I bought the two trees from indicated, it takes at least two hickories cultivars for pollination (just as pecans do). The tree may not produce unless I order another variety.

Word! I used to eat them with my grandpap when I was a little boy. My wife and I found a beautiful specimen of a tree this year and gathered a bunch of nuts. The husk literally fell off of these, in fact, it was rare to find one on the ground that the hull had not broke open upon falling.
Even those I picked from the tree, simply rolling between your fingers separated a four sections of the husk so easily.
They have a taste (kinda reminiscent to me of maple syrup) that is unrivaled imo. I think they are easily the best flavored nut of all. I put mine in the oven (still in the shell) for about 2 hours at 200F.

They are soooo good! Beautiful tree also.


How’s the crack-out on those in-shell roasted hickories?
I’ve only ever cracked them out as they come off the tree - just like pecans, walnuts. Any roasting or cooking… I do with the nutmeats after I’ve removed them from the shells.

Also… I save the nutshells (and some husks) after picking them out, cover with water and boil them or cook for a day or two in the crockpot, strain the ‘liquor’, add sugar (1.5cups sugar/cup of liquor), cook it down a bit and bottle as hickory syrup - reminiscent of, but better than, maple syrup, IMO.

Well Lucky, I’ve never cracked enough to have any real grasp on the right way (or best way) to go about it. I looked it up online and most suggested using a hammer in lieu of a nutcracker…said it worked better. There is also a commercially available cracker that must work really well.
As far as the roasting in the shell, it supposed to aid in removal. I’m pretty sure it does because it allows the nutmeat to shrink away from the shell a bit. This lets the meat come out a bit easier I think. Being good and dry also seems to reduce the pliability of the shell some and seems to make it want to crack (more brittle) more easily.
I really think I’m going to roast the remainder for a while longer at higher heat. The meat still looks identical to those that weren’t roasted so 200F didn’t harm them any…didn’t really notice any difference in flavor either.
That syrup idea is awesome…I think I’m going to do that. Will it strain through a coffee filter you think? I have a real fine screen here somewhere also.
Those shells burn in a woodstove like they were soaked in fuel oil…lol.

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I cracked some black walnuts today. I used my dull hatchet. It worked really well, I used the back side to crack them in half , then the hatchet to crack the halves up enough to get the meat out.

I strain through an old T-shirt. A coffee filter will clog up way too fast.

A good nutcracker, designed for use on hard-shell nuts, like hickories and black walnuts, is far better than a hammer and a rock. My favorite is the ‘Mr. Hickory’, hand-manufactured by my friend Fred Blankenship; I also have a Kenkel, which does well - and cracks some hickories better than the MH.
Each tree’s nuts are different - some crack better end-to-end, some better side-to-side, across suture lines, etc. You just have to play around a bit to find what works best for each specific nut.

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I just read the following in Smith’s Tree Crops. I thought it might be of interest to some of the members here as it was to me.

[Smith quoting someone else, in turn] quoting William Bartram’s Travels in North America.
“The fruit (of the hickory) is in great estimation by the present
generation of Indians, particularly Juglans exaltate, commonly
called shell-barked hickory. The Creeks store up the
last in their Towns. I have seen above an hundred bushels of
these nuts belonging to one family. They pound them to pieces
and then cast them into boiling water, which after passing
through fine strainers preserves the most oily part of the
liquid which they call by a name which signifies hiccory milk.
It is as sweet and rich as fresh cream and is an ingredient in
most of their cookery, especially hominy and corn cakes.”


The last of this year’s hickory nuts from my own wild trees! These are the pignuts. Flavor is amazing. Explosive rich nutty buttery smokey taste. I have a piece of petrified wood from near the Painted Desert of Arizona. I cracked these nuts between the petrified wood and the strike of my hammer!

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Looks just like the ones that grow in my area. They have a great flavor but it is hard to get it out of the shell. I have entertained my grands cracking these and letting them sample what we call the goodie. Bill

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I got a unit called an arbor press that I put in a box and use a breaker bar with to crack some shellbark nuts from a tree down the road. Excellent flavor. The set-up is not as ‘wild’ as using a hammer or (ack!) a hatchet. I have since then planted a few nut trees, including 2 named shag hicks and an hican. I have heard of using the shells and the bark (yup) to make syrup, but using husks is a new one. I picked up a discount press and I figured I could use it for other things besides nut cracking. It works well.

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