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Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Nutty Toppings: Walnut Butter And Vinaigrette Dressing

Walnuts require time and energy to get them from the tree to the plate, but these two recipes will prove that they are worth all the trouble.


Photo: Jo Peattie (flickr)

After you collect the walnuts and remove the hulls, wash them thoroughly. "Any of them that float you throw away, because they don’t have any nutmeat in them," says Tracy Branam. "Then, you have to dry them in the sun for a couple weeks. Then, you have to bag them up and let them cure for another month. And at that point they’re ready to crack!"

Walnuts Are Worth The Trouble

Walnuts are difficult to prepare, with their hard green hulls and black goo surrounding the nutmeat.  Commercial walnut sellers have pricey equipment that hull the nuts, but forager Tracy Branam does it the old-fashioned way: he runs over the walnuts with his truck.

Customers can watch Branam crack the walnuts at his table at the farmers market. “That gives me the advantage of seeing whether it’s a good meat or not,” he says.

Preparing walnuts is a time-consuming process. After the nuts are hulled and washed, Branam says they are dried in the sun for a couple weeks. Then, they are bagged and cured for another month.

tracy branam

Photo: Annie Corrigan (for WFIU)

Tracy Branam enjoys foraging for foods throughout the year. He was selling pawpaws and persimmons at the farmers market in late September.

More: Listen to an interview with Bobbi Boos of LIFE Certified Organic Farm.  And get tips and tricks from local foragers of mushrooms, ramps, and wild greens.

Toasting Nuts

Both of today’s recipes toast the walnuts before adding them to the dish.  Toasting concentrates the essential oils, intensifying the flavor and making them crispier.

“The big thing about toasting nuts is that they go from brown to black in seconds flat,” Chef Orr warns.  He suggests setting a timer every few minutes to force you to check on them regularly.

If you do burn some nuts, discard the burnt ones and save the rest.  “Nuts are really expensive,” he comments, “so you don’t want burn them too many times.”

Black Walnut And Maple Butter

pancakes and syrup

Photo: Megan Meyer (flickr)

Wheat germ pancakes served with a dollop of Black Walnut and Maple Butter, drizzled with grade B syrup from Burton's Maplewood Farms.

This recipe features grade B maple syrup from Burton’s Maplewood Farm, which has a more robust flavor than grade A syrup.  It also includes lemon juice and zest.  “The acidity will cut a little bit of the sweetness of the maple syrup,” Chef Orr says.

Make a full pound of flavored butter and store it in the refrigerator or freezer to enjoy throughout the winter months.


  • 1/2 cup toasted black walnuts
  • 1/2 pound room temperature butter
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • pinch of salt


  1. Leave butter out the night before to make sure it’s nice and soft.
  2. Toast the walnuts.
  3. Combine ingredients and season to taste.
  4. Roll in plastic wrap or parchment paper.
  5. Refrigerate or freeze until needed.

More: Find more maple syrup recipes on our website: Caramelized Turnips and Pears and Strawberry Shortcake with Mint and Maple Syrup.

Lefty’s Black Walnut Vinaigrette


Photo: Alycin Bektesh (for WFIU)

The vinaigrette is drizzled over top of arugula, local goat cheese, and diced tomatoes. Serve this salad with a crusty slice of bread.

Chef Daniel Orr forages for walnuts on his folks’ property in Columbus, Indiana.  He learned how to prepare them from his father.

My father was a baseball pitcher in his younger years and got the nickname of “Lefty” because of his mean lefty fast ball. Now in his seventies, Lefty is more likely to pick walnuts by the fireplace then to be found on the baseball diamond. It is a time consuming chore, but a man has to earn his vitals.

This dressing is no curve ball. It is simple, elegant and easy to make. It is brilliant from late fall through the spring, especially on salads with a balance of sweet and salty components. Think pears and blue cheese.


  • 1 cup salad oil
  • 1/4 cup black walnuts, finely ground
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, highest quality
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons scallion, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced


  1. Heat salad oil and black walnuts in a sauce pan until they are lightly brown and oil is infused with the walnut flavor. Remove nuts and set aside.
  2. Cool the black walnut oil to room temperature.
  3. Whisk vinegar, lemon juice, scallion, garlic, mustard, honey, salt and pepper together.
  4. Slowly add the Black Walnut Oil. Stir in nuts and thyme.
  5. Make 2-3 hours before using for flavors to marry and bloom. Then adjust seasoning if necessary.

Serve at room temperature.

More: Read more about Chef Daniel Orr in: Volunteers In The Garden: Summer Salads and Walnut Vinaigrette

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Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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