A Tough Nut to Crack

Anyone have much experience with black walnuts? I'm pretty certain that until this week, I had only experienced them in chopped form in some desserts, although I can't swear to that right now. I really didn't know much about them at all when they appeared on the list for the buying club. I knew I wanted to get some local nuts to try this fall, and walnuts are a favorite, so I decided to go for it. There was a caution on the order form that heartnuts would be hard to crack, so I assumed that everything else on the list could be cracked with a nutcracker.

Well, that was wrong! Several attempts and some very sore hands later, we decided to search for more information on how best to crack them. One method that was mentioned repeatedly was to boil them, so we moved on to that:

On the left, before boiling, and on the right after

After boiling, they still couldn't be cracked with a nutcracker. It did make them slightly easier to smash with a hammer, but this is a messy process. And the result was not a lot of nut:
And yes, apparently those small pieces are normal. The meats of black walnuts are quite soft, so they don't stay together well.

However, I did notice one thing after boiling--I had a pot full of lovely dark brown liquid. So I grabbed my dyeing books and discovered that walnut is a substantive dye. This means it's among the few natural dyes that becomes fast without any other chemical additives (known as mordants in the dyeing world, these additives are usually various metals). Well, you know what I did then, of course:

See that lovely dark liquid in the middle? Pretty, no?

And the after:

It's a lovely light brown! Of course, this got me searching for other substantive dyes that could be easily obtained. I haven't played with any yet, but may soon try various barks, teas, lichens, onion skins, etc. It seems that most will give colors in the brown family, but you can sometimes get oranges, pinks, etc.--so I will have to play and see what I can do.

And as for the walnuts? Well, I'm thinking I'll try to see how many times you can boil them before you get all the color out. Perhaps repeated boiling will improve cracking, but I'm not counting on it--so maybe the squirrels will want them? And next month, I'm ordering Persian walnuts from the buying club! (having now learned that Persian walnuts are what I know as English walnuts, and are generally crackable!)


Unknown said…
That's lovely dyeing!
Jean said…
I wish you luck with your natural dyes. I stopped wanting to do it when I realised just how many onions you needed to obtain a kilo of skins! I'm sure I could have used less but those acid dyes are just so easy...!
I like your blog. Lots of wonderful photos.