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Last night I helped a friend of mine shell a bunch of black walnuts to use for dyeing yarn. The shells, as many will know, easily dye anything the juice touches a nice, deep brown/black color. Processing the nuts was simple enough, we used rocks to get through the outer hull but a butter knife would also work. They tend to be pretty soft and juicy and easily break off from around the inner nut. We then put the hulls in some pots of water on the stove, let them boil, then strained off the liquid which was thick and nearly black.
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I took the nuts home with me and spread them out in the bottom of a large cardboard box to dry out. This will be my first time curing nuts, so here’s hoping everything turns out alright. At the very least we’ll have some good quality walnut dye for a lot of homespun yarn.

Black walnuts are one of my favorite nuts, especially if you can get them fresh. They’re a wonderful addition to a lot of recipes, and if you get enough of them you can make this Black Walnut Pound Cake:

½ lb margarine or butter
½ cup Crisco
5 eggs
3 cups plain flour
3 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp black walnut flavoring
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup chopped black walnuts

Cream margarine/butter and shortening. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat well. Add flavoring and beat well. Mix ¼ cup of flour with nuts, and sift remaining flour with baking powder and alternately add with milk, starting and ending with flour. Fold in floured nuts. Do not beat! Bake in greased and floured tube pan for 1 hour and 20 minutes in 325 degree oven.

…or this recipe for Sugar Glazed Walnuts:

2 1/2 cups black walnuts
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Place walnuts in shallow pan and heat in moderate oven for about 15 minutes. Mix sugar, cinnamon, salt and water in a sauce pan and cook to the soft ball stage. Remove from heat and add vanilla and nuts. Stir until all nuts are completely coated. Pour onto a greased platter and spread it out.

The black walnut carries some lore with it as well. Here are several anecdotes recorded by Vance Randolph:

“A big crop of walnuts indicates cold weather to come.”

” Some Ozark women scatter fresh walnut or butternut leaves about their houses to repel insects, but I can’t see that it does any good.”

” Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey, Mincy, Missouri, tells me that no true hillbilly ever burns walnut shells. If a walnut shell is inadvertently cast into the fire, some member of the family hastens to snatch it out at any cost.”

“Many hillmen believe that black walnut trees draw lightning and will not go near them in a storm. It is quite common for hillfolk to cut down all the walnuts, even little ones, that grow near their cabins.”

“Many hillfolk treat ringworm by daubing it with the juice of a green walnut; this smarts a bit but really does seem to arrest the ringworm in some cases.”

“The shell of a black walnut is supposed to represent the human skull, and the meat is said to resemble the brain, therefore people who show signs of mental aberration are encouraged to eat walnuts. I know of one case in which an entire family devoted most of the winter to cracking walnuts for a feebleminded boy. They kept it up for years, and I believe the poor fellow ate literally bushels of walnut goodies.”

“‘In central Missouri,’ says Fanny D. Bergen, ‘rheumatism is prevented by carrying in the pocket a nutmeg or a walnut, Juglans nigra.’ I have inquired about this, but have never found an Ozarker who used a black walnut as a pocket piece.”