October 9, 2020

Joshua Galliano

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How to Make Black Walnut Butter

And more black walnut inspiration from a chef outside St. Louis

Let’s face it. The black walnut, though it grows in abundance in this part of the country, is the outcast of the nut world. It will probably never be as popular as the peanut, the pecan, or its foreign walnut cousins.

Maybe that’s because black walnut nutmeats are so notoriously difficult to extract. The shell is damn near impenetrable, and struggling with the hull can stain your hands for days, if not weeks. There is no trick. We go one-by-one with a hammer and an anvil. My father-in-law drives over them with his truck. Then, the meat doesn’t just pop out once you’ve cracked the casing. You have to pry it out. After all that, some people will tell you, you end up with a nut that can taste astringent, almost acrid, even offensive.

But those who love black walnuts describe their flavor differently, as reminiscent of grapefruit, grass, and damp forest. The black walnut has depth of flavor. I blend black walnuts with country ham, cheese, and foraged black trumpet mushrooms to make an excellent filling for stuffed pastas, like agnolotti. I whisk balsamic vinegar with fig preserves, use that to glaze roast pork loins, and coat the loins with chopped black walnuts before returning them to the oven to finish. Browsing recipes, you’ll see black walnuts in cookies, quick breads, and ice cream.

My bourbon black walnut butter is great in a grown-up version of peanut butter and jelly, and I’ve been thinking recently about how it would taste on a charcuterie board loaded with thin slices of coppa and local cheeses.

Black Walnut-Bourbon Butter

Makes 1 quart

A few notes on the ingredients: First, you can find good sorghum molasses throughout the Midwest. My favorite comes from Sandhill Farm, a commune established in northeastern Missouri in 1974. You could also replace the sorghum molasses with black walnut syrup. Some farmers tap black walnut trees and cook down the sap, the same way they make maple syrup. Look for black walnut syrup at the farmers’ market, or try making it yourself next spring. Finally, the optional bourbon extract comes from a Midwestern company that offers many other awesome flavors: South Bend, Indiana’s Terra Spice.

5 cups (about 1 lb.) black walnut pieces
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ cup sorghum molasses
5 tbsp. canola or walnut oil, plus more for topping jars
¼ cup plus 1 tbsp. bourbon, such as Watershed or Cedar Ridge
10 drops Terra Spice Bourbon Extract (optional)

Soak walnuts in enough hot water to cover for 30 minutes. While nuts soak, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Sterilize glass jars—either 4 8-oz. jars, 2 pint jars, or 1 quart jar—and their lids and bands.

When walnuts are done soaking and the oven is preheated, drain the nuts and spread them in a single baking on a sheet pan. Toast walnuts for about 10 minutes, stirring halfway through. Take care not to let them burn. When your kitchen fills with the faint aroma of toasted black walnuts, they are ready.

Remove the toasted walnuts from the oven and carefully remove the nuts to a plate, allowing them to cool for several minutes. Then, add the walnuts and the remaining ingredients to a food processor and pulverize until smooth. Add more water if necessary to achieve a thick but flowing paste.

Carefully pack the walnut butter into sterilized jars, making sure to eliminate any air pockets. Place 1-2 tbsp. oil on top of the walnut butter. Secure the lids and bands on each jar, then refrigerate. The black walnut butter will keep for 4 weeks in the refrigerator.


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