Seasonal Spotlight: Butternuts

Have you ever seen these nuts? They were quite unfamiliar to us when we encountered them at the Dane County Farmers' Market. As it turns out, they are extremely rare.

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Sellers Silvan and Avis Disch of Monticello, Wis., told us that these are butternuts, which they gathered in the wild. A three-ounce bag cost us $20 – yes, you read that right. Why the high price tag? And was it worth it?

The butternut, also known as white walnut, is a species of walnut native to the eastern and midwestern United States and southeastern Canada. In the past few decades butternut trees have become infected with a deadly fungal disease, commonly called butternut canker. It was first identified in Wisconsin but likely came from outside North America. As a result, the trees have become very scarce or even nonexistent in areas where they once thrived. Canada has placed the butternut on its endangered species list.

Not knowing if or when we would ever be able to taste butternuts again, we went for the splurge. We discovered that the nuts taste richer and more complex than the common (Persian) walnut. The slender kernels are buttery and oily with a spiciness that one friend described as "wasabi-like." What a tragedy it will be if the butternut goes extinct!

Have you ever had butternuts or white walnuts? Are you able to forage or buy them where you live?

Learn more:
Juglans cinerea L. (butternut) (USDA Plants Profile)
Juglans cinerea (butternut) (Bioimages)
American Butternut (Local Harvest)
Butternut Blues (American Forests)

Related: Seasonal Spotlight: Hickory Nuts

(Image: Emily Ho)