There are about 30 species of hickory trees in North America, including the pecan, but only five or six produce nuts that are considered worth eating—and these are often the rarest sort of hickory trees, says jumpingmonk. “Most of the rest have nuts that are either too bitter, too small, or too hard to be worth going through the effort of cracking them,” says jumpingmonk. Veggo agrees, based on his experience shelling hickory nuts in rural Connecticut. “It would take an hour and a black-and-blue thumbnail to get enough nut meat to fill a shot glass,” he says.
In the opinion of Bat Guano, though, all that hard work is worth it for the flavor of hickory nuts. At the immature stage, the nuts are juicy and fresh-tasting; when mature and ripe, they’re at their peak of flavor. “Sure, they’re hard to crack and extract, but this just makes them more delicious when you finally do get a tiny bit to eat,” says Bat Guano.
Once in a while you can find Chinese hickory nuts that have been brined and roasted, in places like New York City’s Chinatown. jumpingmonk recommends against these—the preparation leaves them “tasting a little salty and very, very, rancid,” he says.
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