In our area, wild hickory trees are abundant. Like many nut trees, the harvest seems to be somewhat cyclical, with a bumper crop every 2-3 years and more modest crops in between. Unlike many other such trees, hickory trees simply drop all the hickories in autumn.
We picked them up a handful at a time over the last few months. They have an outer shell that starts out green, then slowly turns dark brown. When there were several dozen, we used the workbench vise to crack the outer shell and remove it. Next we subjected all the hickories to the float test. As with eggs, hickory nuts that float when placed in a pan of water are not good to eat.
After all this, we had a harvest that looked like this:
After sorting out the good ones, my husband and brother cracked and shelled all the hickories. The process is similar to hazelnuts (filberts) except for being a lot more laborious.
I forgot to mention that the entire goal here, was the making of a pie. Yes. My husband was inspired to use these forest-foraged hickories to make a pie. We used a pecan-based pie crust and adapted a recipe for pecan pie.
It surpassed the minimum requirements of edibility, with a flavor very similar to pecan pie. However, with one caveat: the hickory nuts are so laborious to pick out of the shells that a few shell fragments inevitably made their way into the pie, requiring a cautious and tentative approach to chewing. Curiosity having been answered, I doubt this particular project will be a repeat.
With that said, we enjoy picking up hickories through the autumn, and roasting them in the fire is a good excuse for making a fire on chilly days.