Last year when we moved to Alabama, I was enthralled to see simple things, like pecan trees (OK, so I moved to a small town with not much to do). I really did get excited that I no longer had to BUY pecans to bake with- SCORE! Then, I discovered hickory nuts. Can you believe so many people here just let them go to waste?
Hickory nuts are a great source of food if you know how to prepare them. The nuts of some species are delicious, while others are bitter and only suitable for animals to munch on. Shagbark and Shellbark Hickories, along with the Pecan, are regarded by some as the finest nut trees. You can't buy hickory nuts shelled commercially, there's not enough profit, but ebay has a few sellers.
The house we currently reside at, has a huge hickory tree. While I'm unsure of the actually species name of our hickory, I am positive it isn't a Shackbark (which is what hickory syrup is usually made from), but am almost sure it's a mockernut hickory. I have opened the 1- 1/2 inch sized nuts using a hammer and would compare the flavor of the meat to a cross of a pecan meeting a walnut. I should also mention from the one tree we have, I've collected somewhere in the area of over a hundred pounds of nuts. I swear I don't have issues, just lots of time.
I find the the best way to crack the shells is most preferable using a table vise. I can apply the perfect amount of pressure in just the right spot and save the meat inside, without crushing the shell. You can use a good walnut cracker if you choose or a heavy duty all purpose nut cracker, as they are sturdy enough to crack even the toughest shells. I can't even begin to tell you how many bags of nut meat I have in the freezer. If you want to skip digging for hours for small bits of the insides, skip right ahead to syrup making. You can use a hammer if you don't have a table vise. The spot to hit is listed below. It's not a perfect science, but just to make syrup, it's ok to mess a few up. I suggest using concrete as a base, perhaps even a brick.
-Note the pointy end, hit closer to that point, on a ridge-
You'll want quite a few open...like enough to fill a large pot.
You're next step will be to fill your pot with all the open shells, meat and all if you chose to avoid that step, and cover with water. Boil until the liquid is reduced by about half. Next, you'll drain all the solids out, saving ONLY the brown nut liquid. I use a cheesecloth lined strainer for this to catch all the small shell fragments and nut pieces and strain it more than once.
You'll now return the brown hickory "liquor" to your pot and add sugar. I use about one and a half cup of sugar PER cup of liquid. Boil this on medium heat for about thirty minutes, watching the consistency, as you may require more sugar to thicken. You'll want to add additional sugar carefully and slowly as too much sugar can crystalize when jarred. I find that somewhere between 220° F to 234° F on a candy thermometer is about the right temperature. Pour your syrup, while hot, into prepared sterilized canning jars and seal them according to manufacturers suggestions. I process my filled jars for about 10 minutes and store in a dry, dark, cool place. Refrigerate after opening.
While I don't have it down to a science, I have officially made Hickory Nut syrup that taste delicious! I'll admit, my very first batch after canned, had to be opened and reboiled as it didn't thicken as well as I had hoped. I was able to re-can with great results. I'm told basting ribs on the grill with my syrup is to die for, especially before using barbeque sauce.
This canning set is on sale!!!!