Chestnuts can be eaten raw, but often are cooked with meat in a stuffing. Pierce the nut's shell with a knife before cooking, or it will steam inside and explode like popcorn.
Philip Rutter of Canton, in southern Minnesota, is founder of the American Chestnut Foundation. He and his wife, Meg, not only cook with chestnuts; they feed them to hogs to produce tender, juicy pork, and they stuff chops with cooked and chopped chestnuts for an earthy flavor that blends with with the pork.
"An awful lot of people have had bad experiences with chestnuts," Phillip says. "But when they eat ours, they say, 'These are really good!'"
Hicans are a natural cross between a hickory and a pecan. The nuts can be used for snacking or in soups, salads, main dishes and desserts.
Hickories possess one of the hardest shells to crack. Their buttery flavor makes them a favorite in desserts, but they're also eaten raw or cooked in other dishes.
Audrey and Robert Biersach of Columbus, Wisconsin, gather shagbark hickories from the wild to eat and sell. The secret to cracking the nuts, she says, is to dry them properly for about three weeks. "There isn't any easy way to crack them," she says. "But after you do a million of them, you know what to do."
Robert places a damp towel over the nut hulls the night before he cracks them so they absorb a bit of moisture, then cracks them using a vise. Audrey tucks the nutmeats in the freezer, where they'll keep for several years.
Buartnuts rarely appear on grocery shelves, but this butternut-walnut hybrid produces a fast-growing tree with nuts that crack more easily than butternuts.
Black walnuts are native to our region. The nutmeat's distinct, robust flavor especially enhances mild-flavored foods, including ice cream. Almost every variety of black walnut has a different flavor.
Barb and Dwight Ittner, who live in southwest Missouri near Noel, grow walnuts so large, the pieces need to be chopped to use in cereal, applesauce, main dishes "and desserts, if Dwight gets any," Barb says.
You'll know if a husked walnut is edible when you wash it in a tub. "The good ones sink; the light ones float," Barb says. Discard any walnuts that float.
Another tip: "They should be kept refrigerated or frozen, like all your nuts, so they don't get rancid," Barb says.
Hazelnuts can be used raw or toasted. They're easier to store than other nuts: They'll keep for weeks at room temperature and stay fresh for a year or longer in a refrigerator.
Missouri pecans grow smaller than their Southern counterparts, but aficionados claim these nuts have a better, sweeter flavor. Use pecans raw or toasted, for eating fresh or as an ingredient to almost any recipe.
Missouri is one of the northernmost regions for pecans, which are only hardy to Zone 5. But Missouri nut producer Drew Kimmell raves about Missouri's nut. He gets letters from converts who write, "I am now a pecan snob, unable to enjoy lesser pecans" and "I am now addicted." Drew markets the nuts, most grown organically, for the Missouri Northern Pecan Growers in Nevada, Missouri.
Pecans are healthy for weight management, too -- a small handful helps curb your appetite.
Butternuts are close relatives of the walnut, and like walnuts, should be stored in a refrigerator or freezer as soon as they are shelled. High in calories, they can be eaten raw, toasted or baked in desserts.