The outer hull pretty much falls off in 4 segments by itself
as the nuts begin to dry. Once hulled, I store in a cool,
dry place. I suppose you could spread them out on a flat
to dry if you're worried about fungus or rot, but I have
not observed it to be a problem.
In all probability, not all the nuts will be usable.
In my area, there is an insect that lays eggs in the nuts
while they are still green and soft. The developing larva
feeds on the nut meat until the nuts fall, then chews its
way out and pupeates in the ground. So don't be surprised
to crack one open and find a fat little white worm about
The worms make good bait for small game fish or minnows.
If you hang the nuts in a burlap or nylon mesh bag over
a bucket or washtub, you can catch the worms as they chew
their way out. The bad nuts then have a visible, tiny hole.
A sorting technique you can try is to "float" the nuts in a
bucket of water. Nuts that rise to the surface are more
likely to have internal voids, and by inference, worms,
rot, or other problems, while nuts that sink to the bottom
are more likely to be robust and fully filled.
The nut meats are good for eating and cooking, somewhat
sililar to Pecans or English Walnuts, but difficulty of
picking them out of their shells varies all over the map,
depending on the genetics of the tree they came from.
There probably has not been much selective breeding for
this trait, compared to more commercially popular nuts.
Some are so convoluted that they are hardly worth the
effort, while others pop out with little work. You'll
just have to crack a couple open and see what you've got.
Some of the ones that crack out easily may be worth
propagating if you have someplace to plant them.
By the way, there are at least two major varieties of
Hickory. The shellbark typically has 7 leaves per branch
and large nuts, probably the best food potential. The
shagbark typically has 5 leaves per branch and smaller
nuts. There may be crossbreeding between the varieties.
I have also heard of "pignut" and "bitter hickory", which
may be sub-varieties, or just colloquial terms - I am not
entirely clear on this point.
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