I have seen hickory nuts at my parents' house and we must have the same variety here. I was always intrigued by the smooth white nut inside the ugly outer shell. It just looks like a doll's head to me and my brain immediately starts grinding out hickory nut craft ideas.
It turns out there are many different kinds of hickory nuts. Jeff and I had an argument this morning when he saw our cache. Apparently, our hickory nuts don't look like real hickory nuts, the ones he got paid for picking up in the yard when he was a kid in Arkansas. But those ugly things?! Those are not hickory nuts, as far as I know! Here is a page showing the varieties. Here, we have shagbark hickories. In Arkansas, it must have been shellbark or kingnut. Funny how different they are! No wonder we didn't even think they were the same animal.
So here's a picture showing some of the nuts we collected. At the top you can see the nuts in various stages of breaking out of their hulls. Aren't those inside kernels pretty?
We were interested first in using the outer shells to make hickory nut boats, which I saw on this blog post. We needed half-shells, but they were so dried up that they fell apart in quarters and we had to glue them back together to make our boats. While I was melting a pumpkin spice jar candle in the oven (which is what you do when you have no beeswax per the instructions) we made little sails from toothpicks and scrapbooking paper scraps. Then we poured the wax into the hollow boats, let it set up for a few minutes, and then installed the sails. Voila! A fleet of lil' nutshell ships! They smelled great too. So cute. Wish I had seen this in time for Columbus Day...
We read that hickory nuts are hard to crack, but we tried anyway. We had to hit them with a small hammer and pick the meat out with a skewer. I had to sit on the kitchen floor, which is vinyl over concrete - it was the only place hard enough to hammer on. (Note to self: try to avoid sitting on the kitchen floor. Way too much down there that should never be seen at close range!)
The nuts were delicious! They tasted exactly like a sweet, extra-creamy pecan - not surprising since they are related. After about 1/2 an hour of work, this is what we had. Molly made off with the stash as soon as I took the picture. She loved them! It was a lot of work for little result, but it felt very primal to harvest and eat something uncultivated straight from nature. I have a lot of respect for squirrels now, too.
So then we had time to play with the hickory nuts and other interesting items from our nature box, to see what we could create. (I'm surprised how few ideas I could find on the internet.) Here is what Benjamin came up with on his own. It's supposed to be a frog! He also wanted to use the glue gun on his own. (gasp!)
Here are a few of my creations. Forgive my lack of camera skills! I was stuck in a Christmas ornament rut, so that's what they're meant to be. They are about 3" tall.
I'm still mulling over some ideas for when I have more time. I was thrilled to find that there is a little book still in print from 1946 called Miss Hickory, about a doll with a hickory nut head and her nature friends. It sounds delightfully quirky, and this site gives instructions for actually creating the doll and her accessories - no pictures, though. I can't quite predict if the boys will enjoy this adventure, or if I'll have to wait for Molly to grow up a little. I plan to get the book and see! This stuff is right up my ally, so I know I will have a good time regardless.