Pre-Order Food In The Civil War Era

Black Walnut Cake

Makes one 2-layer, 8-inch cake, about 8 servings

Black Walnut Cake

“The native American black walnut is an untamed recluse, lurking inside a tough husk, clinging to its shell like a limpet to a rock,” writes Raymond Sokolov in "Fading Feast, A Compendium of Disappearing American Regional Foods" (Farrar Strauss Giroux 1979). He describes some methods of extricating the nut from its husk: attack with a hammer, drive over in a car. Black walnuts are available commercially and are an acquired taste.
http://www.npr.org/2008/11/05/96258175/coaxing-the-black-walnut-out-of-its-shell
This recipe is adapted from one in Fading Feast attributed to Mrs. Viola Bricker.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup (4 ounces, 1 stick) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup cold water
  • 5 ounces black walnuts
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 recipe icing

  • ICING
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 pound confectioner’s sugar

Instructions

Grease two 8-inch cake pans.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cream butter, gradually beating in sugar. Beat until smooth.

Sift together baking powder and flour. Stir into sugar-butter mixture with the cold water.

Chop all but ½ ounce walnuts and add to cake batter. Reserve unchopped nuts.

Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into batter.

Pour equal amounts of batter into prepared layer pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until cakes spring back to touch

Cool cakes on rack.

To make icing, with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Gradually add melted butter, beating until it is completely absorbed. Add vanilla and sugar, beating well after each addition so the icing is smooth.

Unmold cake layers. Set one on a serving plate. Ice top sparingly. Set other layer on top of it. Ice top and sides of cake. Decorate with reserved walnuts.

5 Responses to Black Walnut Cake

  1. Jenifer October 17, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    Might want to say where we can get black walnuts ( a friend found them at CostCo recently) as my grocery store does not have them. My dad, however, planted hundreds of black walnut tress on the Minnesota Sibley country farm – will check with Mark.

  2. Avatar of Nancy J Stohs
    Nancy J Stohs October 21, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

    I have six jars of black walnuts in my fridge, lovingly (painstakingly) extracted from walnuts on a family farm in Kansas by my father when he was alive. I love black walnuts!
    The one reliable source I know of is the Hammons Co. in Missouri, http://www.black-walnuts.com/. They harvest from 15 states, and their website also has lots of recipes. They’re not inexpensive, but there’s a good reason for that. They’re extremely difficult to get out of the shell.

    • Avatar of Bonny Wolf
      Bonny Wolf October 22, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

      I have found Hammons’ black walnuts in supermarkets in Maryland. Black walnuts may be found in markets in the East, Midwest and Great Plains states where they grow.I’m so impressed you cracked six jars of those hard nuts. how did you do it?

  3. Margie Gibson January 19, 2013 at 8:11 am #

    My grandparents lived about 70 miles west of St. Louis when I was growing up. They had about 70 acres of land, much of it wooded, which provided a steady supply of elder flowers and berries, blackberries, persimmons, and black walnuts. We would gather the walnuts in the fall, and then they would sit, spread out on a tarp in the garage, for a year to cure. The following fall, Grandpa would individually put each nut into a vice and crack it open. (Eventually someone came through the area with a hulling machine. Then we would haul burlap bags to him and let him do his thing.) At any rate, once the nuts were hulled and cracked, we’d fill several large bowls with the nuts and bring them inside. Mom would cover the table with newspaper, give each of us a plate, smaller bowl, nut cracker and pick, and we’d spend winter evening picking the nuts, listening to music, and munching nuts and apples for sustenance. Mom would put the walnuts into quart Mason jars and freeze several for use later on in the year. But the other jars were destined for Christmas cookies and tea breads. And at least one jar was reserved for a good friend who made black walnut pie–and invited us to partake.

    • Avatar of Bonny Wolf
      Bonny Wolf January 19, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

      Margie — this is such a wonderful, evocative story. Thanks so much for sharing it with us. We’re doing a sort of virtual pot luck soon and are trying to get recipes from all 50 states from our community. If you have a black walnut recipe we would love to have it.

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