Walnuts are a HUGE part of fall in my world, thanks to (1) the enormous, beautiful black walnut tree that is the indisputable emperor of my back yard, and (2) a vast and hyperactive squirrel community whose collective life mission is storing as many walnuts as possible between the wall studs in my house.
Walnuts are delicious, nutritious, and really expensive to buy, which makes harvesting them worth the time and effort (and it honestly takes a fair amount of both).
It all boils down to three steps: getting the green husk off, drying the nuts, and then cracking them and extracting the meat. It’s a relatively time and labor intensive deal, but kind of fun if you go at it with the right attitude.
The video below sums the process up extremely well. Or if you prefer written info, here’s a great page on the whole walnut processing hoo-ha.
Really, do be sure to wear gloves. These babies stain everything (including skin and fingernails) like nobody’s business. You can actually make a pretty respectable dye from the juice of the walnut husks.
Husking is the big time-consumer in the harvesting process. If you don’t like the cut’n’peel method, there are other options; some people advocate husking the nuts by spreading them out and stomping on them or piling them up and then driving a car over them . Alternatively, you can apparently really speed up the husking process by using a pressure washer. Some people recommend blanching the walnuts in boiling water for a minute or so to make the husks come off easier.
Black walnuts are practically impervious to the standard nut cracker, so getting them open is basically a combination of ingenuity and brute force. The most common method is to tap them with a hammer. Here’s a guy who puts them in a vice to crack them, and this guy came up with a brilliant device using an adjustable clamp.