OMG, Hickory Nuts!

I always thought pignut hickory was very bitter. You sure you aren’t talking about shellbark hickory?

That’s a really meaty pignut, Matt. I’ve not run across one here with that much kernel.

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@speedster1 @Lucky_P

I believe my batch was a mix of pignuts and shagbarks. Shagbarks are also called shellbarks.

I’m not sure about that. I’m pretty certain they are distinct trees. This publication from the Univeristy of Kentucky explains the differences between Shellbark and Shagbark hickory. The easiest way to identifiy them is that shagbarks have 5 leaves on each leaflet and Shellbark have 7.

Agree, they are different trees… but some folks also call any evergreen with needles a ‘pine’.

Difference in leaflet number is significant. Shellbarks usually are not as ‘shaggy’ in bark character as are the shagbarks, but the big, telling difference, for me, is that shellbark nuts are almost always a LOT larger than those of shagbarks, and shellbark nutshells are brown, as opposed to off-white/cream color of shagbark nuts. Shellbark nutshells usually a lot thicker than those of shagbarks.


I didn’t know about the leaflet difference. That is good to know. Shagbarks are said to have more concentrated flavor… but as far as I know we only have shagbarks (C. ovata) here in Iowa so I have never had shellbark hickory.

Hickory nut cake is my favorite dessert. My grandma makes them for holidays only, because of the effort required to crack the nuts.

This thread is a good reminder that I need to start walking the trail in my neighborhood that is lined with shagbarks so I can pick up the nuts.

Shellbark’s native range does extend into southeastern Iowa, and some of the better shellbark selections originated in Iowa. But, while it’s widely distributed, nowhere throughout its range is it common. Usually found along creeks/rivers, in my experience.

If I’m gonna sit down and eat nuts, pecans are my fave, but for cooking… hickory is the best. If you’ve ever had a good hickory pie… pecan just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Flavor is variable. I’ve had some shellbarks that had an ‘off’ flavor about them. Local shagbarks that I’ve shared with some friends around the country have garnered remarks about them being mild, bordering on bland, like a pecan, with little ‘hickory’ flavor.

My recent college-graduate is home while on the job hunt…I’ve had her cracking and picking out hickories that I’ve had in the freezer for a couple of years (had to make room for blueberries/blackberries!)… she’s picked out right at a gallon of hickory nut kernels this week while watching the Olympics.


Yesterday, I gathered and de-hulled various hickory nuts. I’ll let them cure for a couple weeks before cracking…


Matt are they not bitter?

MrsG… only bitternut hickory (as its name suggests) has astringent kernels.
Most hickories - particularly shagbark(as in Matt’s photo) and shellbark - have ‘sweet’ kernels, with flavors ranging from mild, pecan-like to fuller/richer, approaching black walnut in flavor.
Perhaps one of the tastiest hickories is mockernut (C.tomentosa)… but unfortunately, its shell thickness and internal convolutions prevents easy cracking or obtaining anything more than tiny little nutmeat fragments.


We used to have the two-handed crackers, plus nut picks with a curved picking end for prising them out of the shells

Thanks! Growing up in Ohio, I am a huge fan of black walnuts, a definite like or dislike kind of nut. I remember only the bitter hickory nut. The sweet variety sounds great!

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I’d have to agree!!! Run them over with the car!

I just found some Hickory Nuts at Styer’s Orchard today. The last time we were there I asked the tractor driver, who is the son of the owner, what kind of tree it was and he didn’t know. Today he told me it was a Hickory. I snagged a few nuts and they are so good. The trees are kind of planted in a row and very large so I imagine the original orchard owner planted a named variety, but I could be wrong. Who knew.

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I didn’t know this thread existed until now. I agree they are very tasty. I came across some one day walking back from our mailbox down by the road. They were laying in or near a ditch, some in the green husks, some out. I showed my wife and she said they were hickory nuts, and was pleased I found some.

Over the last couple of weeks I think I’ve collected about 100 pignut hickorys. Every day I collect the mail, I walk along that area and search for them in the leaves, I have to kinda rustle them up with my shoes, they’re hard to see. Out of the husk, they are about quarter-sized.

I asked our neighbor about them, because the tree may be on their land, and they didn’t mind. She called them pignuts. The tree they seem to be under is definitely not a shagbark.

I spent last Sunday out on the deck cracking some of them that have dried. It took me about an hour to shell about 15-20 of them, but it was worth it. I used a small hammer on them resting on a brick with grooves in it to rest the nut. It is hard to get the meats out in large pieces. But, yeah, they taste a bit like a pecan, and they do have a sweet flavor, with a hint of bitterness. I much prefer them to black walnuts, those are way too bitter for me.

I am all in on hickory as I’ve discovered a grove of them behind a historic farmhouse where I have been picking apples…best tasting nuts ever. They taste a bit like pecan but sweeter and with a maple flavor. Lightly toasted…wow.
Nice article on the them, thanks to @Chestnut-


Thanks Jesse, I’m glad you liked the article.

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I’ve been enjoying the essays and vids on your site, keep it up as time permits.
What proportion of crushed nuts to water?
I will be making some hickory broth over the fire today, and will report back. Also mulled cider and my “autumnal sangria” (cider, red wine, spices) for a small cider happening.

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I’ll fill a pot with a few thick inches of crushed nuts and then fill the rest with water, the longer you let it simmer, the better. Sometimes I let it stew for a couple days on the wood stove and it becomes so thick and flavorful.

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Shellbark hickory nuts from a recent foray, about 4 times as large as the shagbark I gathered. Good taste, not quite as sweet as the shags, nice and buttery though.