You'd think that if anything would bring out the Greed of Man in me, it would be truffles, a sexy, intoxicating food that can fetch $300 a pound or more. Yet I've found myself giving plenty of them away to my friends for the past week. No, what really makes me feel like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, the wild food I hold most precious, is my store of shelled black walnuts. Don't even ask. You can't have any. They are mine I tell you, all mine!
For those of you who don't know what a black walnut is, it is a generic term for the wild walnuts native to North America. There is one main species east of the Rockies, two in California, and a couple of others in Arizona and Texas. Black walnuts are, more or less, related to hickory nuts and butternuts.
What's the difference between a black walnut and the kind you get in the store? The vast majority of walnuts you buy in stores are English (also called Persian) walnuts, which are larger and easier to shell than black walnuts. In some places you can buy black walnuts in stores, although they are rare. Fortunately you can buy black walnuts online.
Size is not the main difference between black walnuts and domesticated ones. Flavor is. Black walnuts taste far stronger than regular ones, more concentrated, walnut-y, and even a touch more bitter. It is like the difference between cream and skim milk, grouse and chicken, a wild strawberry and one of those gigantic ones grown on the coast of California. I will take black walnuts over regular ones any time, and for any price.