Missouri’s Moneymaker

When black walnuts fall to the ground in September and early October, the green hulls signal good eating. The intense flavor of the wild nuts makes them a coveted ingredient for bakers the world over, which means those green hulls also signal money in your pocket.

Hammons Products Co. is the largest supplier of American black walnuts in the world, and the Stockton, Mo., company relies on Midwestern foragers to stock its supplies. Every October, the company purchases the wild nuts hand-harvested from back yards, byways and farms.

But before they’ll get you the treasure you seek, either culinary or monetary, black walnuts must be hulled – and that’s no easy task. Hulling them at home is close to impossible, and requires an anvil and hammer or a vice. Hulling stations take the work out of removing the rough, thick hull; hullers in 16 states then sell the nuts to Hammons.

“A pickup truck load will bring [foragers] about $70, average,” said Robin Patt of Country Way Nursery, a hulling station in Bonne Terre, Mo.

But just collecting black walnuts to hull is tricky. The nuts fall to the ground when they’re ready, but they’ll stain hands and clothes, so wearing heavy-duty rubber gloves is a must when gathering them. Veteran hulling station operator Stanley Dillon, owner of Stanley’s Garden Center in St. James, Mo., advises would-be walnut entrepreneurs to corral the nuts in trash cans, bags or boxes to transport them to the hulling station. “You need to get the walnuts into our hopper for us to hull them,” he explained.

Both Patt and Dillon will hull black walnuts for personal use for a small fee. Dillon sells a mighty nutcracker, too. (Once the outer green hull is removed, there’s still a formidable shell to crack before the walnuts can be used in cookies, fudge and other holiday treats.)

So if you’ve got some black walnuts and time for a drive in the country, check out a black walnut hulling station, for love or money.