I was out raking leaves in my yard the other day and thought I had discovered a treasure. There were gobs and gobs of nuts falling from shells that had landed on the ground. I must have missed them last year or perhaps squirrels got them before I noticed them. When I inspected them more closely, I found some that were cracked open enough to reveal inner nutmeats. They looked alot like pecans and smelled like walnuts. I began envisioning all the delicious pies that I could bake for Thanksgiving and Christmas. My mouth began to water. I quickly collected as many as my little bucket could hold.
My neighbor passed by while taking a walk. I asked her if she could identify the mystery nuts. At first she also thought the nuts could be an edible type but she suspected they were more likely hickory nuts. She suggested I Google them. I learned that in fact I had hickory nuts. There are some common and uncommon types. My tree was of the more common variety with a plain bark instead of a scaly kind. Unfortunately, the nuts from the common tree have a bitter taste. The hickory nut also is about the most difficult nut to crack. There are some practical uses for the nuts. They can be used to add flavor to meats by smoking them under meats on an open grill. Some people have cooked the nuts to create hickory milk. Making the milk is a labor-intensive process. It takes a long time cooking the nuts in water until the meats fall out of their shells. The meats and shells must be strained out of the liquid. Only then can the milk be used to flavor dishes with the hickory flavor.
After I finished my research on the hickory nut the excitement over my discovery began to subside. I realized that using the nuts for anything other than decoration was improbable. Store bought nuts for pie use suddenly seemed pretty appealing. The common hickory nut is a disappointment for human consumption……but the squirrels still love them!