We just got back from Hilton Head Island. While I was sitting on the porch reading, I kept hearing an occasional knocking noise. When I took the trail down to the beach I saw squirrels running by with something. I found the little nuts on the ground and then saw them on the trees.
When they fall, they make a knocking sound.
I looked them up. They are pignut hickory or coast pignut hickory nuts. Pignut Hickories grow in a lot of areas, but they are not terribly common. They prefer a humid climate and it is humid on Hilton Head Island. I’ve never noticed them before, but this is not the time of year we are usually on the island.
Why are they called Pignuts?
It seems the early colonists saw wild pigs eating them.
Are they edible?
Squirrels really like them. I read that where pignut hickories grow, they make up to 25 percent of the squirrels’ diet.
Wild turkeys and other birds that can get into them eat them. Bears, foxes, rabbits, raccoons, and deer eat them. Deer will also eat the flowers, leaves and twigs.
And yes, we can eat them. Pignut nuts are up to 80 percent fat, and low in protein and calcium and fiber. Just what we are looking for, another good source of fat that is low in protein and fiber.
The nuts can be eaten raw, though they might be bitter. The nut can also be candied, crushed into flour, or boiled to separate the oil.
Did you know that pecans are hickory nuts? I did not. So are nutmegs, sort of.
Pignut hickory nuts don’t look much like pecans or other regular hickory nuts.
Everything I read says that pignut hickory nuts don’t taste good. I didn’t try them. Janet Pesaturo of One Acre Farm says the taste is comparable to other hickory nuts, “variable, usually flavorful, but never bitter.” Her article, Hickory Nuts: Foraging for Pignut and Shagbark Hickory Nuts talks about where to find hickory nuts, how to tell the trees and nuts apart, how to gather the nuts and get them out of the shell and some ideas of what to do with them.
We have black walnut trees that drop big green fruit with a nut inside. They are kinda related too. They are a lot of work to get into. People put them in their gravel driveways to drive over them to get them outta their skin. We let the squirrels have them. Our nuts come assorted salted in a jar.
Like other hickory trees, Pignut Hickory trees lose their leaves in the winter. The leaves turn orange red in the autumn. If they were easier to transplant, they would be really popular.