Peak Macadamia Nut

SUBHEAD: On the autumnal equinox we have reached Peak Macadamia Nut in Hanapepe Valley.  

By Juan Wilson on 22 September 2009 for Island Breath -

 Image above: Macadamia nut saplings along the drive from some nuts we missed. All photos by Juan Wilson

When we moved into our home here in Hanapepe Valley there was a 20 year old macadamia nut tree right next to the driveway. It produced nuts that fell on the drive and many would be either run over by my truck or my wife's car. Those that were not were scarfed up by eagerly waiting rodents (small rats) that waited in the leaf clutter for us to pass. After a couple of years the nuts that survived began producing saplings on either side of the drive.

It was not until a few years passed that we even tried eating one. They were daunting to open, but once opened proved delicious. It was no wonder the rats were willing to wear their teeth to the nub for that inner delight. I taught some some kids in the neighborhood how to step on a mac nut to slip it out of its outer husk, and then to use a rock to crack the hard, round inner shell. They were soon aficionados competing with the rats. As the kids grew up we got more serious about collecting the nuts for ourselves.  

The Collecting -
Over the last few years we have developed our own technique for harvesting and processing. Some years, like 2008, have been bad for our tree. This year has been a bonanza. We don't pick the nuts off the tree. The tree is too tall for that and we let the nuts ripen on the stem. We wait for the nuts to fall from the tree. This year our tree began to drop a few nuts in July. There has been an increasing shower of nuts for two months.

Twice a day, morning and afternoon, we make a collection of the fallen nuts around the tree. I'm sure this pisses the rats off no end. For the last month that means about 50 nuts a day. Now we pick up only the nuts that have some green on the outer husk. We used to take even browned or blackened husks, but have found that some of the older nuts are past using.

Image above: Green macadamia nut husks turning brown and peeling open in the sun.  

The Processing -
We lightly rinse the nuts in their husks and sit, them spread out, in a wide bamboo basket in the sun. We bought the baskets in Honolulu, in Chinatown, in a store that supplies kitchen equipment. They are about 30" in diameter and cost about $12. They are tough, and good even for drying salt. The nuts husks split open in the drying heat.

After a couple of days it is easier to pop them open and extract the nut itself. We put the peeled nuts on a wide dish and that also spends a couple of days in the sun. Added to the morning and afternoon harvest is the moving of nuts in and out of the sun and peeling them. The sun processed nuts are put in a bag and hung in the kitchen. We have three bags of about 15-20 pounds at present.

Image above: Peeled macadamia drying in the sun before toasting.  

The Roasting - 
Sometimes we crack raw nuts and eat them. They are good, with a bit of coconut flavor and texture. However we prefer them roasted. We usually roast only what we will eat, maybe 20-40 nuts in an evening. We roast them on a tray in a toaster oven at 220 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes.

That time will vary on how toasty you like the nuts and how "green" they are. By green I mean how little time they were in the sun and how long they were hung in the kitchen. I would guess the best results at 40 minutes is for a nut that was in the sun for four days and hung in the bag drying for a couple of weeks.

Experimentation for your own tastes are required. After several attempts you will know by your nose what is happening in the toaster oven. Once they are roasted and cool down enough to hold them, crack them open and indulge. We like ours toasted to a honey color and a bit crisp. We either sprinkle a little sea salt on a cutting board and press a nut into the salt crystal for seasoning, or have a few nuts with a bit of smooth dark chocolate.

Either way is heavenly. Having a good nut cracker is vital with macadamia nuts. A hand held walnut cracker won't do. For a years I used a carefully adjusted large vise-grip wrench. but we moved up, in 2007, to a professional model. The manufacturer, TJ's Nutcrackers, boasts that grandmas and grandkids can safely operate it... and it is true.

Image above: Our $75 macadamia nut cracker at work. It should last longer than we will.

TJs Nutcrackers Gold Crown Macadamia Association 9582 Del Dios Highway Escondido CA 92029 tollfree: (800) 344-6887  

The Transplanting -
We have found it quite tricky to replant macadamia nut saplings. They seem to like dry shady places. They have prime deep tap root that cannot be damaged when transplanted. Dig deep and gently. The younger the sapling the easier it is. We have a friend with whom we bartered a recent transplant and if hers tree survives we may try to offer a few more. If you are interested in saplings or know how to transplant them, you can comment to us below.

 Peak Macadamia - 
  Here it is the solar equinox and I went out this morning to collect nuts. We have been discovering more steadily since July. In the last week we have had 75 or more nuts collected each day; most in the morning and then some more in the afternoon.

There were nuts, but not like yesterday. There were maybe 35 nuts. I think we are off the plateau and on our way down the slippery slope to having no more nuts at all to collect. We could trade the nuts at Mana Ohana or a neighbor, but growing your own tasty protein along the driveway is too important to us. Macs are almost 10% protein. With some careful restraint these nuts we have should take us into the holidays and through the winter solstice. I'll be looking forward to a warm roasted treat on a rainy winter night.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much, Juan, for reporting your hands-on experience using macadamias. This is the kind of knowledge that will be so important to all residents of Hawaii in the decades to come.
Planting food trees, and using dooryard crops for food is a critical part of adapting to our future on these islands "in the middle of nowhere'.
Our several mac trees are only a few years old, so not yet bearing nuts, but I am grateful to learn practical things about using macs from your personal experience.
Please keep writing these kinds of articles,
they serve our common need for self-sufficiency
here on Kauai.
Warm regards,
in Wailua

Juan Wilson said...

Mahalo Jenny,

Your kind words are inspiring and I will heed your suggestion. I'm now working on an article about processing plantain cooking bananas and a followup to our chicken egg laying article. I have an idea for a green fruit recipe article too.

Best you all on the Puna eastside.

From Kona southside.


Unknown said...

I bought their nut cracker. All I have to do is to paint the wood with one or two clear coat. It is the best mac's nut cracker. The tray is excellent idea. The nuts don't run around any more.

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