Hickory is a traditional food source to the Haudenosaunee. European travellers who came to Iroquois Country wrote that they were actually disgusted at how many Hickory nuts the men would consume in one meal.
The nutmeat is fragrant and sweet but notoriously difficult to pry from the shell. So how do we eat them?
There are several traditional uses of Hickory nuts. Historical naturalist William Bertram wrote in 1792 about the indigenous use of Hickory he observed saying, “I have seen above a hundred bushels of these nuts belonging to one family. They pound them to pieces, and then cast them into boiling water, which, after passing through fine strainers, preserves the most oily part of the liquid; this they call by a name which signifies hickory milk; it is as sweet and rich as fresh cream, and is an ingredient in most of their cookery, especially hominy and corn cakes.”
This “hickory milk” is actually more of a delicious nut broth. You can drink it as a coffee substitute or use the broth in place of liquid in any recipe to give a sweet, nutty flavour to your cooking.
First get yourself a good pint or two of hickory nuts. The preferred nuts to use are the large hickory nuts from the Shagbark Hickory. Before you begin you’re going to have remove the outer husk and rinse the hickory nuts in a large bowl to wash away any dirt or debris. If any of the hickory nuts float discard these – they are spoiled or have a little bug inside called a weevil.
This is the fun part. Take your clean nuts and smash them to bits. Use a hammer, a brick, a mortar and pestle or whatever you like. They don’t have to be ground fine. Any amount of shatter will do. If you find the occasional black nut or weevils just discard those. You don’t want that in your food. At the end of your crushing you should end up with 2-4 cups of crushed bits.
Gather your hickory bits, shells and all and put them in a large pot 3/4 full with fresh water. Bring this to a rolling boil on the stove and then turn down the heat to simmer for about 45 minutes, giving the pot a good stir every 10 minutes or so. You can boil as long as 2 hours but not longer.
Naturally during the broth making process the nutmeat will float to the top of the broth and the shells will sink. This is nature’s blessing. Take a big spoon and skim off the floaters and let them drain on a paper towel. You can still use these and they are delicious. Ground them up once they’ve dried into a nut meal and add it to cornbread or mush.
Drain the pot of nut broth through a strainer or cheesecloth to separate the remaining shells from the liquid and there you have it — Hickory Nut Broth.
You can try drinking this as a tea sweetened with maple syrup. Or try using it as a liquid in wild rice recipes and white corn meal mush for an additional flavour kick.
TIP: If you just want to eat the hickory nuts and aren’t interested in making broth — try soaking the nuts in hot water for 30 minutes before cracking. This helps the shells to split rather than shatter when you crack them.
Hickory – Nutritional Information
Hickory nuts (dried), 9 nuts (1 oz.)
Total Fat: 18.2g
Good source of Magnesium (49mg) and Thiamine (0.25mg)