If you ask anyone who knows me, they would tell you that I love nuts. Although the latter is often treated now days with a raunchy interpretation, I none the less do not sugar coat the fact that I am fascinated with nuts, tree nuts that is. I have taken this fascination to great levels, more so then any one else that I have known. But then again, I am the only person I know with such an extraordinary interest in nuts, so I cannot say for sure that I take things too seriously!
However, one of my favourite nut varieties are Hickory nuts, which come from Hickory trees (Carya) which are related to Walnuts (Juglans) and are bound together taxonomically in the Walnut family (Juglandaceae). Living in the deciduous forests of southern Ontario, Hickory trees are abundant if you know where to look. The most abundant is the Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) which yields an incredibly bounty of sweet, delicious nuts every 3 years are so. Because there are so many individual trees around, there are always some that are producing so I never have to encounter a 'dry' year where they are still plenty of nuts for me, and the local wildlife who share my love for this humble seed.
Although the Shagbark Hickory is relatively easy to identify, with it's long, shaggy grey skin and large compound leaves, the nuts are truly a tough nut to crack! Although smaller than a golf ball but larger than a grape, their shell is nearly impenetrable. To solve this problem, I have purchased an industrial strength stainless steel vice nutcracker which easily opens Hickory nuts, Black Walnuts, and probably any other nut in existence! At 90 dollars and only available from certain retailers, this is not an option for everyone. Do not be discouraged, for even if you do not have a powerful nut cracker, the wonderful taste and flavour of these nuts are not sealed away!
I recently acquired a recipe for what is known as Hickory Milk. This hearty, alluring beverage with it's sweet, syrupy aroma and coffee-like consistency is incredibly easy to create and stole my heart right after the first sip. Most folks eat Hickory nuts whole, on their own or add them to muffins, cookies, chocolates and breads. This required completely freeing them from the shell, but Hickory Milk does not require this! So even if you don't have a tough nut cracker, collect some Hickory nuts and try out this incredible treat!
Interested? Well here is how to make Hickory Milk!!
Once you have collected some Hickory nuts, it is time to get cracking. Using a hammer, brick or steel vice, crack the hickory nuts. Without a strong nutcracker, this can be messy and next to impossible to get the nut meat out. However, getting every kernel piece free from the shell is not necessary. In order to make Hickory Milk, you need to boil the shell as well! Both the oily and nutty texture of the kernel, mixed together with the smoky qualities of the nut shells creates the perfect flavour and texture. So, all that you need to do is break the shells! However, the smaller you get the shells and kernels, the better. Grinding them up also helps.
The only formula that you need to know for boiling the nuts and shells is this: 1 part hickory nuts / shells to 3 parts water. For example, if you have 1 cup of both crushed hickory nuts and kernels, then you add 3 cups of water. This is important, for if you add to much water the taste will be watery and if you do not have enough will be too syrupy and viscous to drink properly. So, grab a pot and simmer the mixture of hickory nut kernels / shells with the water for 30 minutes. This simmering is part of the whole experience. The fragrance that comes off of the nuts is FEMOMINAL! I actually drooled a little bit while watching it cook, no joke!
After 30 minutes, open the pot. Now this is where things get even more interesting. You will notice that the bits of kernels, during the boiling process have become separated from the shells, and have floated to the surface. The shells, heavier, sink to the bottom. While still simmering, grab a spoon and collect all of the kernels from the surface of the water. These kernels can still be used in other ways! Place them on a towel or hard surface in the sun and allow them to dry. These kernels, although drained of most of their flavour, can be ground up into flour and used to thicken soup, sausages, gravy and sauces! Never let the boiled kernels go to waste!
Once you have removed all the kernel pieces, you can remove the pot from the heat. Now, pour the Hickory Milk from the pot through a strainer into another pot or bowl. This strainer will catch all the shells and prevent them from floating around in someone's drink! These shells can then be composted. Your Hickory Milk, still hot and steaming, is ready to be consumed! Sugar and cream, can also be added to enhance the flavour. This brew can be stored in the fridge for several days if there are left overs. I prefer to drink this warm, but it can also be enjoyed cold, with ice cubes. Even a splash of baileys or kahlua for the adventurous is incredible!
This wondrous tonic has been described as "ambrosial - fragrantly nutty, delightfully heavy on the tongue, unlike anything I had encountered before" and will certainly be enjoyed by anyone! Try this unique and incredible beverage, and in the process you will discover the versatility of these nuts, and how nature is here to sustain us! ENJOY!!