What is the Difference Between Butternuts and Black Walnuts?

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, September 28, 1912:  Mater went to a sale today. I got busy this afternoon and went for to gather some butternuts. Was rewarded by getting almost a bushel, any way it was dreadful heavy to carry, but I got them home at last.

butternut

Butternut (Photo source: Wikipedia)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

I never heard of butternuts until I read this diary. What are they?  What does a butternut tree look like? Are there still any butternut trees around?

According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources:

Butternut: Also known as White Walnut, this relative of Black Walnut is slower growing and much less frequently encountered than its well-known cousin. Butternut prefers moist bottomlands and ravines like Black Walnut, but its lightweight wood is beige-pink in color and is not nearly as sought-out for making veneer and furniture. Its kernel within the fruit gives it the common name of Butternut, as it is sweet and very oily.

Butternut trees have oval nuts; black walnuts have round nuts.

I now realize that maybe I can’t tell the difference between butternut and black walnut trees—and that I’ll need to look more carefully the next time I see a walnut tree to figure out which type it is.

An aside—

Last week-end my husband and I gathered black walnuts. We hulled them and set them out to dry. I can hardly wait until they are dry enough to crack and use. I absolutely love their wonderful complex, sharp, rich, nutty taste in cakes and cookies.

Here are the links to the posts I wrote last year about black walnuts:

Hulling Black Walnuts

How to Crack Black Walnuts

Old-time Black Walnut Cake Recipe 

19 Responses

  1. I also like black walnuts. They have a nice rich taste.

  2. gathering walnuts and drying them sounds so homey

    • Gathering walnuts is a fun activity on a nice fall day. And, then we just spread them out on newspapers to dry after we’ve hulled them. I turn them once or twice so that all side get exposed to the air.

  3. I think I have heard the word butternut before, but I cannot think when or in what context. Perhaps from my Great Grandmother Irene, who made lots of things with walnuts. Also, as a former student of Latin (as you know), I like the fact that your Grandmother used Mater to refer to her Mother. :)

  4. My mother talked about butternuts, and my dad’s parents had black walnuts on their farm. But I still don’t know the difference. I know an older man who is a wood-carver. Perhaps I will get the chance to ask him.

    • it you find anything out, let us know. It’s kind of amazing how some trees that apparently once were common, we now either don’t know how to identify or they are rare.

  5. Hi. We still have a few butternut trees in Fredericton. My husband talks about them when he tells about his childhood. Jane

  6. G’day, I’m going to seem like a real “drongo” here … but, as an Australian, when I saw the word “butternut” my brain immediately swung to Butternut Pumpkins. ha ha ha… have no idea, at all, about “gathering” black walnuts/butternuts etc. Do you go out into your back yard or into the woods?

    • When I hear the word butternut, I also think first of the squash. (We’d call it a squash rather than a pumpkin.)

      My husband and I gathered the walnuts that fell off a tree in a park. I think that many walnut trees were planted years ago–and they are often found in parks and along roads, as well as in yards and overgrown fields.

      • Thanks for your reply Sheryl. How wonderful that Walnut Trees are so prolific in your “neck of the woods”.
        My neighbours had a strong and vigorous Walnut Tree but the “Cockies” (Sulphur Crested Cockatoos) developed a liking for it and, after about 3-4years of ripping the walnuts off/ ripping the bark off, that beautiful tree finally “turned up it’s toes” and died.

        • I googled Sulphur Crested Cockatoos to find out what they look like. They are beautiful–even if very destructive.

          • They are stunning beautiful, Sheryl, and noisy when arguing over a “tasty morsel” which may be part of your wooden window frame. Cheeky beggars!!!
            Glad few people now keep them in little cages, as pets, like when I was a child!!!

          • It sounds like so much fun to be able to see them outside your window. In the US, some people still keep some type of cockatoos as pets. (I’m not sure whether they are sulphur crested or if they are a different type). I don’t know much about it, but my sense is that, unless the owner is very experienced with birds, that they often don’t do very well.

  7. […] What is the Difference Between Butternuts and Black Walnuts? […]

    • The difference between Butternut and Black Walnut.
      I have over 100 young black walnut trees and my friend has at least one old butternut tree.
      I have not compared the bark or the leaves, but I do gather the fruit.
      Butternut nuts have sharper spines on the shells, that’s how I tell the difference.

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