A tough nut to crack

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

By SARA ARTHURS - Lugibihl, 81, is a retired family practice physician who practiced in Pandora for 44 years. He retired in 2004, and only started seriously pursuing baking with hickory nuts after he retired. - The hickory nut is native to Ohio and is also plentiful in southern Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri, Lugibihl said.

Many people view it as a nuisance, with the nuts falling from the trees and getting in the way of lawn mowers. Lugibihl, however, thinks their flavor is particularly suited to pies and cookies. He recently baked 25 pies to sell as a fundraiser for the Mennonite Home Communities of Ohio Service Group, which were quickly spoken for.

His pie recipe is based on a pecan pie recipe. The pie has the richness of a pecan pie, but the flavor of the nuts is different. He uses a 10-inch pie plate so it isn't quite as thick and uses 11/2 cups of nuts instead of one cup but said it's a "basic recipe, nothing fancy."

Lugibihl also makes icebox cookies with pieces of the nuts in them, using a recipe from his mother. He has also been known to put hickory nuts in chocolate chip cookies.

Hickory nut cake is also considered a delicacy, Lugibihl said, but he has never made it. While the nuts can be eaten raw, they have a more pronounced flavor after having been baked or roasted.

Lugibihl said not many people cook with hickory nuts, because cracking and picking them is so time-consuming. He said it takes him about two hours to pick out enough for a pie, but to him the rewards are worth it.

"It's a fairly unique flavor," he said.

Lugibihl also makes candy at Christmastime as well as pickled watermelon rind.

He gets the nuts from different locations in the Bluffton area.

Often, he gets them from people he knows, such as a nephew who has a hickory tree on his property.

He picks up the nuts that have fallen from the trees in early September, then hangs them in sacks in his garage to dry.

Usually there is a crop every other year.

"This year was an exceptionally good year," he said.

He harvests only nuts that have fallen to the ground.

"Don't go up in the tree and pick them," he said.

The size and flavor of the nuts, as well as how easy they are to extract from their shells, depends on the tree. He keeps notes of which nuts come from which trees so he knows for future years.

Lugibihl cracks the nuts with a vise set up in his garage.

"I crack them all this way, even the little ones," he said, explaining that it's easier to control.

He then uses a small side cutter to further crack the shell and pull slices of shell off, freeing the nut.

"I don't use a nut pick at all," he said.

He said they are harder to crack than an English walnut or a pecan, though not as hard as a black walnut.

Pointing to a plastic tub full of the nuts, Lugibihl said it took him an hour to crack them.

Some stick deeply into their shell and are hard to get out.

"That's why you have to know the tree," Lugibihl said.

His mother used to pick the meat out of the shell with a nut pick, which he said was slower than the method he now uses.

The nuts have a hull on them which Lugibihl removes before washing them.

"The bad ones usually float," he said. Good nuts are heavier than water and sink.

Hickory nuts can also have worms. Lugibihl said this is much more common in nuts growing in the woods, as opposed to trees on someone's property. He does not collect nuts from the woods.