Fall for hunters is all about putting food on the table. From large game to small, freezers are getting filled. But wild game isn’t the only food available in the woods this time of year. Mast trees are dropping their bounty now. If you can beat the local wildlife to it, you can pick up some pretty good eats on your way back to camp after a morning hunt.
One of our favorites this time of year is the hickory nut. My dad is a hickory nut junkie. He picks them up by the side-by-side bed full, hulls them, then keeps a bowl handy all winter long for snacking. They do make a delicious nosh, but they are even better in desserts like this bourbon and hickory nut tart. There are about a dozen varieties of hickory across the country, and most are pretty tasty. If you don’t have good hickory species where you live, pecans and walnuts work equally well in this recipe. And both are way easier to pick the meat from than hickory.
A quick walk through just about any hardwood stand should yield a few nuts this time of year. Ripe nuts fall to the ground, and the green husks turn a gray-brown color. If weight isn’t an issue, simply collect the nuts husk and all. If you are on foot and carrying your prize, remove the husk in the woods to reduce the weight and volume.
Once the husks have been removed, inspect the shell for any signs of rot or insect infestation. Discard any suspect nuts and keep only the nuts with clean, unbroken shells. Dry the hulled nuts by spreading them in a warm spot for a week or two. Store the nuts in a cool, dry spot. Plastic 5-gallon buckets with snap-on lids are perfect containers. Hickory nuts stored in this manner will last for months.
To harvest the meat from the shell, use a hammer, a brick, or a nutcracker to break the hard outer hull. Use a nut pick to work the meat free from the shell. Don’t worry if the first few come out looking like you ran over them with a bulldozer. You’ll soon develop your technique and be able to remove the meat in large chunks.
Once you have collected about 2 cups of picked meat from the nuts, make this bourbon-sorghum hickory nut tart. Tart in name only (because of the pan it is made in), this rich, sweet dessert is packed with flavor, making it the perfect ending for any holiday meal.
One 12-inch round pie crust, recipe included
2 cups hickory nut halves or pieces
3 large eggs
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
3/4 cup sweet sorghum
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons Evan Williams bourbon
1 teaspoon bourbon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon white granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
About 1/2 cup cold water
10-inch tart pan with removable bottom
Mix flour, shortening, white granulated sugar, and salt together with a fork or a pastry blender until very crumbly. Add as much cold water as needed until the dough just holds together. Mix lightly with a fork.
Form the dough into a small rectangle and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Roll the dough gently on a floured surface to about 1/8-inch thickness and into a round at least 2 inches larger than the tart pan base. Fold carefully in half, lift to tart pan, and unfold. Press into pan, using your knuckles to press the dough down tightly to the lip of the tart pan. Use your roller to press the dough onto the tart pan, cutting it to size as you go.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line the crust with aluminum foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Blind bake the crust for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and beans or weights and allow the crust to cool.
Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Beat in the sorghum. Add butter, bourbon, vanilla, and salt; beat until blended. Stir in the hickory nuts.
Pour the filling mixture into the crust. Return to the oven and bake the tart for 25 minutes or until the center is fully set. Allow the tart to cool before removing the tart pan rim. Slice and serve warm and topped with sweetened whipped cream, if desired.
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