Shagbark Hickory Nuts, Nov 07 | Take to the Woods to Find Shagbark Hickory Nuts in Iowa


The shagbark hickory, a close relative—in fact, an ancestor—of the pecan, is not often grown commercially, but I sometimes wonder if that might not be because it is so prevalent in the wild. If you want some, just go take a walk in the woods; shagbark hickory trees are everywhere.

Take along a knife and a nutcracker. When you find some nuts that are brown and beginning to peel open in a four-point star pattern, peel away the husk and crack open the shells. Shagbark and shellbark hickories both have thick shells and small meats, but the best flavor. Crack one open and try it—there are no poisonous hickories, only sweet or bitter—if it tastes good, start gathering. Pick up the green ones too—they can be cured in a cool, dry place that’s safe from rodents. After a week or two, they should open up and be easy to peel.

Because gathering them takes some effort, hickory nuts seem to have fallen out of their once high place in the American (and especially Native American) diet. But the Slow Food Ark project is endeavoring to change that. You can read more about that and the hundreds of other Ark foods at Slow Food Ark.

And if you really don’t want to take that walk in the woods, a great source of Wisconsin hickory nuts is Ray’s Hickory Nuts.

Pumpkin Rock Cookies with Shagbark Hickory Nuts

(Makes about 24 cookies)
1 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree(organic)
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup dark brown sugar (packed)
1/8 cup malted barley syrup
1 egg, large
1/4 cup apple butter
1/4 cup applesauce
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup miller’s bran
1 cup shagbark hickory nuts (or substitutewalnut or pecan pieces)
1/2 cup currants (optional)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream butter and brown sugar together until smooth. Whisk in barley syrup and then the egg. Add the applesauce, apple butter, pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Mix until smooth.

In a separate bowl mix dry ingredients—flour, oats, baking soda, bran, and salt—and then stir into the wet ingredients until incorporated. Stir in the walnuts and optional currants.

Drop spoonfuls onto greased baking sheets and press down lightly on the piles with the back of a spoon. Refrigerate sheet for 5 to 10 minutes before placing in hot oven.

Bake about 18 minutes. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the cookie—check them at 12 minutes. Internal temperature should be 180-190°F.

Cool on a rack and ice when warm to touch but not hot.

Optional Icing
3⁄4 stick of unsalted butter
2 cups of confectioner’s sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Mix all ingredients until smooth. Spread or dollop icing on cookies as desired.

(From Joanne White at

Kurt Michael Friese is co-owner of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay and Editor-in-Chief of the magazine Edible Iowa River Valley. He lives with his wife Kim in rural Johnson County. Comments may be directed to