Shagbark hickory nuts (Recipe: maple nut cookies)
Guest post and photos by Marcia in Rhode Island
Shiny chartreuse spheres, dropping in our woods, send the squirrels scrambling.
Bucket in hand, I’ve joined the melee. We’re vying for the sweetest of all hickory nuts, the shagbark.
Shagbark hickories are found throughout most of the eastern United States and are easy to identify. As the name suggests, long silvery strips of shaggy bark curve outward from the trunk. Ramrod straight, the narrow tree soars as much as fifty feet before forking into a fanciful canopy of large compound leaves.
In autumn golf ball-sized nuts, in clumps of twos and threes, crash to the ground.
Even though the yellow-green nuts are unripe, I follow Thoreau’s advice to pick them now before they ‘rattle out’ (separate from the husk), so my noisy competitors do not get them all. Spread out on newspapers, the nuts ripen slowly. The thick husk turns dark brown, and eventually splits to reveal the shell.
Once they rattle out, a quick tap with a hammer easily cracks the shell. Then the hard work begins.
Picking out the tiny meats is tedious -- this is when children are useful. Older folks in town recall racing home from school and going ‘up attic’ where the nuts were drying. Shelling went quickly, as the clever mother had promised to make cookies as soon as she had a cupful.
I don’t have any children in the attic these days, so when my fingers give out, Ray's Hickory Nuts comes to the rescue. I keep a bag of their shelled nuts in my pantry.
Native Americans also kept stores of shagbark hickories throughout the winter. John Bartram, 18th century naturalist, noted that each family had as many as one hundred bushels. As sources of food dwindled during the winter, the nuts were an important source of nourishment. The nuts were pounded, and boiled in water. The resultant "hickory milk" was used to enrich corn cakes and soups.
Bite into a shagbark and taste a whisper of wild mingled with the sweetness of pecan. Eat them out of hand, or add to tea breads. Make a Cherokee stew with ground hickories, hominy, broth and sweet potatoes, or pair the nuts with meats, especially wild game.
I have toasted and tossed them into a wild rice salad, made hickory nut pesto, and a hickory nut date bread. But today I used an old recipe my mother had.
Now, with a cup of coffee and some cookies, I’m going to relax with Carolyn Sherwin Bailey's classic Miss Hickory: “Miss Hickory heard heavy footsteps, clump, clumping along …..” But before I get immersed in her adventures, tell me:
Do you go nutting? For hickories, piñons, walnuts?
Maple nut cookies
Use walnuts, if you can't find shagbark hickory nuts in your woods. Makes approximately 2 dozen.
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup butter
1 beaten egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup shagbark hickory nuts (or as many as you have managed to shell!)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease two cookie sheets, or line with a Silpat (silicone sheet) or parchment.
Cream together until light: brown sugar, shortening, and butter.
Beat in the egg and vanilla.
Sift the flour, soda, and salt together and stir in.
Fold in the hickories.
Drop on greased cookie sheet.
Bake at 375F for 12-15 minutes.
Let stand a few minutes before placing on racks to cool.
When cooled, frost with maple cream. If you don’t have maple cream, mix together:
1 cup sifted confectioners sugar
2-4 Tbsp cream –- adjust amount to desired consistency
2-3 Tbsp Grade B maple syrup (otherwise, make sure you use real maple syrup -– adjust amount to taste)
Note: If you don't want to use shortening, you may substitute all butter; however it doesn’t fully support the hickory taste and cookies will be flat.