My friend, Meg Prange, has a contract to provide the Iowa Department of Natural Resources with 25 bushels of hulled Shellbark Hickory nuts. These will be used to produce seedlings for use in DNR tree-planting projects.
So hulling was what Meg was doing when I drove by her farm down south of Russell while roaming Wednesday afternoon. Meg's farm used to be my parents' farm and I grew up there.
The nuts in the foreground are rejects. The good ones (below) were bagged up and ready to go beside the truck.
Shellbarks (Carya laciniosa) are the largest of the Hickories, the gold standard when it comes to these sweet and flavorful nuts. They can be twice as large as the more familiar Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) nuts, familiar across a wider area of Iowa.
Here, Shellbarks grow on the Chariton River bottoms and are highly treasured. We used to go down to the bottoms to collect them when I was a kid and those who gathered them could be as secretive as morel mushroom hunters when it came to their favorite sites.
Meg knows the secrets now and travels widely in the bottoms, buckets in hand, with her husband, Larry, who aids and abets her many projects.
Shelbarks also grow in the floodplains of the Mississippi and its southeast Iowa tributaries, but as a rule aren't found elsewhere in the state. Meg offered me a handful to take back to town, but I declined and settled for a view of the Shagbark Hickory grove across the valley where I used to spend time as a kid.
My mother was a master at cracking and extracting hickory nutmeats in intact halves. This was a skill I did not inherit, and usually just smash a finger or two when I try it.