Fresh pesticide-free macadamia nuts have been available at several farmers markets the last few weeks. Yes, they are locally grown! The green-husked nuts come from Possum Trot Tropical Fruit Nursery, where grower Robert Barnum has about a dozen trees. This summer, Robert managed to harvest about 45 pounds this summer, and fresh nuts should be available for about two more weeks.
Fresh macadamias don’t look like a nut. They have a green rind or husk that needs to be cut and peeled off. It will split by itself when the nut is ripe. Robert suggests leaving fresh nuts out on the counter for a few days to dry out a bit. When the husk is slightly dry, it is easier to remove. If you have a dehydrator, you can speed up the process. Dry them for a few hours on low heat until the husks split. Use a sharp knife to pare them off.
Underneath the husk is a smooth, dark brown shell that is tough to crack. Dry the husked nuts in the dehydrator again, for two to three days at 100 degrees F. This will dry the nut meat a bit and cause it to pull away from the shell, making it easier to crack. If they crack cleanly, they’re ready.
Robert’s cracking technique is very DIY. He carefully holds the nut in place on the side of a sledgehammer, and taps it with a claw hammer. If you don’t have two hammers (or don’t want to risk smashing your fingers), you can try a concrete slab or sidewalk and tap at the shells until they crack. (Whatever you do, do NOT do this on a granite counter top or the stone will crack. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!) Nutcrackers don’t apply enough force to crack the shell.
Once the shell is cracked, you have to pry it open. Robert used a pocketknife. Inside is the white, mild flavored nut. You can eat it raw, or lightly toast and salt it. Cracking nuts and getting the meat out is labor intensive, but somehow squirrels are able to open nuts without any tools.
The macadamia trees have been bearing well in past summers, but those harvests were much smaller because of The Squirrel Problem. Sounds like a well-worn cliche, but Robert has been battling squirrels for years, trying to keep them out of the nut trees. The little animals have a powerful attraction for macadamias, but waste a lot. They’ll eat part of the nut, cracking it open with their powerful jaws, and let the rest of it fall to the ground.
On a recent visit to the macadamias, two mutts that accompanied Robert and me went racing ahead, barking excitedly. A brown hound ran up to a tree, clambered up its lower branches, barking vigorously. It had spotted something. As Robert and I approached, the dog climbed down. I peered up at higher branches but saw nothing. “Squirrel,” Robert said. “The little critter is hard to spot. It will hide on the opposite side of a branch, and all you’ll see is the tip of its tail, or an eye peeking out.” I did see plenty of half-eaten nuts in the leaf litter below, a sign that squirrels had been munching there for some time.
Feast like a squirrel! Fresh pesticide-free macadamia nuts are available at the Upper East Side Farmers Market, Verde Gardens Farmers Market, and through Bee Heaven Farm’s online store for a limited time.