If you happen to live near to a walnut tree here in Provence that has yet to have been ravaged by squirrels… I suggest the very satisfying activity of foraging free food! There are many walnuts here in Provence; you’ll often find wild specimens on country lanes. These tend to be the ‘English’ variety of walnut rather than the black walnut.
Before you do anything– buy yourself some heavy-duty rubber gloves. Otherwise, your hands will be the colour of walnut stain.
Gather the fallen nuts from the ground. Do not take directly from the branches as they are delicate; you can unwittingly destroy next year’s crop. Depending on when you pick your walnuts (September through to October here in Provence) you’ll find the husks surrounding the shells either green or dried out and black/ brown. It’s best to pick up the walnuts as quickly as they fall to discourage mold growth. This will be easy as you’ll find yourself competing with squirrels. Be aware- it is best not to admit to this battle against the squirrels, depending on how far you take it, it may lead to your partner calling you ‘squirrel’ for the rest of the year…
Remove the husks. If they are still green and hard you can use a hammer to crack the husk and then remove. I simply stepped on them and they came away quite easily. If they’ve been on the ground for a while they will have insects (small maggots-sorry) in the flesh of the husk. This does not affect the walnut. It is fine. Suck it up. You’re dealing with nature now.
Rinse off the shells with a high-pressure hose to get rid of any debris.
Dry the nuts. Lay them out in a squirrel-free environment with lots of air circulation. Leave them to dry for anywhere from 3 days to a week. The shells will be brittle when they’re ready. The dryer the nuts are- the easier it will be to remove them from their shells.
Store your nuts whole in a cool, dry place. They will keep for a year if you keep them in their shells. If you don’t see yourself making the effort to crack open shells every time you’d like a tasty morsel- do it all at once like I did.
Crack those suckers. The best scenario would be to prepare yourself with a large glass of red wine and some relaxing music, or friends to talk to while you’re doing this. It will require patience. Don’t expect your nuts to come out of their shells in 2 perfect halves as you get at the grocery store- this can, of course, happen- in which case you’re much better than me. If you see any evidence at all of mold on the inside of the shell- discard; it will contaminate all your hard work. Many people say to use a nut pick. It will make your life easier.
Store those little tasty nuts in glass jars so you can admire your hard work. Keep in a cool and dry place.
Also, try my Homemade Walnut Wine Recipe.