Hickory Nut Tea and How We Used to Make It

The informant is my grandmother, a Cherokee woman born in 1932. She worked as a nurse for her entire career, though has been retired for some time.

In this piece, my grandmother gives an explanation of how she used to make hickory nut tea during her childhood and talks briefly about who taught her the recipe.

M: I’m going to teach you how to make hickory nut tea.

Me: Okay [laughs]

M: You have to get a stump. You drill a hole into the stump.

Me: How big is the stump?

M: About to your waist.

Me: Okay, so waist high.

M: Yes. You drill a hole into the stump. Not all the way through, though. Then, you go and get hickory nut. You put the hickory nuts into the hole. Then, you take a mallet, which was a stick kind of thing. Then you start smashing the hickory nuts with the mallet.

Me: Okay.

M: Do you have this so far?

Me: Yes, ma’am.

M: Okay. Then you take the hickory nut out of the stump and put it into a cup of water, and then boil the water. You drink hickory nut tea in the fall. It’s a fall drink.

Me: Okay.

M: That’s how you make hickory nut tea.

Me: Where did you learn this?

M: My father. He would make it every year in the fall using this process.

In researching this, I found the small lump my grandmother is talking about is called “kenuche”. You place the kenuche in the water and boil it, according to her. Here is a website that mainly focuses on showing you how to make hickory nut soup, but still shows the process of how to make a “kenuche ball” in a more modern way: http://halfhillfarm.com/2013/10/13/recipe-cherokee-kenuche-ball-hickory-nut-soup/

There’s a lot to do in the process of making hickory nut tree. My grandmother describes it as a hard process: one that takes a lot of strength, patience, and perseverance. This recipe is probably something our great ancestors would make. My grandmother describes hickory nut tea as being a “fall drink”, meaning it relates to today’s “pumpkin spice latte”. It warms you up as the weather is starting to get cold, and was used by my ancestors for this specific reason. I don’t see my grandmother going out and making hickory nut tea through this process, but perhaps even knowing about it makes her feel connected to her past. She passes down the information not in hopes that we make hickory nut tea, but that we keep the knowledge alive, and so we don’t forget something our ancestors considered very important.