Hickory Nuts--from tree to pie November 12, 2013


It has taken me 70 years to finally get around to making a really decent hickory nut pie. I have always been partial to hickory nuts, but cracking and shelling was a real tedious deal ...until now. The main problem was that the nuts are so hard that when you crack them be it with a hammer or a nut cracker -- nut shrapnel is everywhere. More on nutcrackers in a minute. Then it was very hard to separate the nut meat from the shell shapnel-- a task that soon depleted my patience. However, it did not deplete my desire nor persistence. Finally, compliments of the internet and some enterprising fellow I know not, a way was found. Then with a goodly supply of clean nut meats finally in hand it wasn't long before a good pie recipe was discovered leading to a fine addition to the fall harvest festivities and the groaning tables of Thanksgiving.

First, the nuts: There are 11-12 varieties of Hickory nuts in North America, but here in Indiana the ones I know are mainly the pignut and the shagbark. The ones I use for pies are from the shagbark hickory trees... easily recognized by their ..yep ... shaggy bark. Pignuts are smoother barked... smooth like a pig I suppose..and the nuts are smaller. They might be tasty .. don't know ...never tried them ..yet. Here are a couple of pictures:


Shagbark Hickory Pignut Hickory


I gathered them beginning this year around the first week in October. There is a tree down the road that is still full of them with literally  bushels on the ground as I write this ( 11-12-13..cool date).
I spent several evenings poking around the net looking for a good nutcracker... they are not all that cheap... anywhere from $30 to over $100. I still wasn't convinced that even after spending the money, I would not have the same problem of having pieces of shell bits with the nutmeats-- a discouraging event when chomping into a good piece of pie. Then I ran across this page on the net:


There is all sorts of interesting things on that gent's page.


Here is my setup which is much like the setup described on the above web page.

I did use the money I saved from not buying a nutcracker and bought that super snazzy used Case XX knife at one of those places you want to go on a rainy day and meander. One never has enough pocket knives or walking sticks or ????  About the only thing I changed from the directions in the web site is that instead of putting the half nuts back in the indentation,  I turn them "face' down, place the knife down the middle and lightly tap in the middle top and they divide quite nicely. That hammer is an old brass hammer that belonged to my dad when he worked in the shops. It is handy and won't mess up that XX.

It takes some learning and some time, but one can get enough nutmeats for a couple of pies in an evening around the fire... sipping on coffee... sipping on other things might make it take longer to get the job done.. just think that's right of course ;)

It takes a cup of nutmeats for one pie. After I get them, I place them on a tray and roast them in the oven for about 20 minutes at 350. The aroma is wonderful... tried to talk a lady friend of mine into finding something like it ...trying on the essence of roasting hickory nuts.... she thought I was the nut.. or sipping too much non-coffee ...thought both likely.

Now to the pie! Here is the recipe;

3 eggs slightly beat up
1 cup of corn syrup ( I have used Lyle's Golden syrup, today I used what was left in the bottle of that plus some light Karo plus a couple of table spoons of my hard earned maple syrup
3/4 cup of sugar ( today I used the Splenda brown sugar baking stuff)
a tsp of vanilla
a chunk of melted butter... the more then better... I think the recipe I started with said 2 tbs.. I over did it... 'cause I love butter.. dandelions always affirmed that on my chin..

add the1cup of roasted nuts, mix that all up with vigor and pour it into a 9" pie shell and bake 10 minutes at 400, then 40 minutes at 350.

The pie crust shell:

Now my mother had a great unimprovable piecrust recipe ..I thought unimprovable until my mother-in-law's came along..she could torture a fried egg, but her pie crusts were mighty.

This recipe makes two whole pie or three shells because I like the shells a bit thicker...and I can get that snazzy little decor around the edge easier.

4 cups of flour ( I used unbleached) I was going to put 2 cups flour and 2 cups of Spelt flour... and will try it on the next batch of company.
1 1/2 tsp of salt
1 tsp baking powder
Mix that all up good, then cut it into 1 and 3/4 cup of crisco... I like the butter flavored ... you know....the dandelions...

Then you beat an egg with a tablespoon of vinegar in a measuring cup.. then add enough water to make it a half cup..sprinkle it all around the flour mix and knead it... don't get carried away.. it stays flakier the less you knead.. hmmm, is that a slippage of Freudian?

Roll it out ... I do it on wax paper ...sprinkle a bit of water on the counter and the paper will hang tight. Place ( I end up plopping) it into your 9" pie pan, then fill it with the good stuff and pop it into the oven.....and go have another cup of coffee or ???.

There you have it.


PS... I was thinking about seeing if we could have a Hickory Nut Festival here in the county.. you know with Hickory nut pies and cookies..cakes... ice cream....artwork...nutcastle contests and other contests like how fast can you shell 10 nuts or maybe spin the hickory nut for the younger folks... or how about a "nut chuck" for accuracy or distance...even have a nut queen..though that might not look so good on a resume. Something to think about.... Mitchell Indiana has a persimmon festival... and there is so much more you can do with a nut than a 'simmon-- definitely no castles or chucking... think we're missing out on something big here in Morgan County.