Beech Nuts

beechnutsthumb.JPGBeech nuts are in season - and this is one kind of nut I've never seen in the shops - so I went out to the woods gather some

The beech tree needs no introduction, but there's something quite special about walking through a tall beech wood on a crisp autumn day

beechnuts1.JPG

Beech Nuts

beechnuts2.JPGI'm talking about the little three-cornered nuts produced by the common beech Fagus Sylvatica

They are borne on the tree inside tough, bristly capsules that split open in a four-pointed star shape and drop the nuts (a pair from each capsule) to the ground

beechnuts3.JPGI picked about a double handful of them, straight off the leaves and soil of the forest floor - it had rained the day before, so the conditions for collecting were not ideal

However, these are seeds - they're designed to last the whole winter in contact with damp soil, so there's nothing to worry about really

beechnuts4.JPGOn returning home, I rinsed the nuts in a colander, then set about shelling them

This is undeniably a very fiddly job, as the nuts are smaller than peanuts, but the shells are just soft enough (particularly when wet) to be broken open and peeled off using only the fingernails

beechnuts5.JPGIt took a whole hour to shell all the nuts I picked - ending up with just more than a large handful of kernels

Some of them are covered with a fine coating of little fibres - so I gave them another rinse

beechnuts6.JPGI drained them and tossed them in a little salt and sugar, then spread them on a metal tray

I roasted them in the oven at 130 C for just seven minutes - they're really small and could burn quite easily

beechnuts7.JPGI sprinkled a little more sugar over them when they came out of the oven

Turns out that leaving the skins on was a mistake - as that part is still quite astringent, even after roasting

A better approach would have been to roast them dry with no added ingredients, then rub off the skins and then toss them in some salt and/or sugar

Apart from the slight bitterness from the skins, they are fine-tasting nuts - earthy and sweet, with a unique flavour of their own that doesn't readily compare to anything else

It's a proper fiddle to gather and prepare them though - so apart from novelty value, it's difficult to justify the time and effort

Beating The Squirrels

It can be really frustrating watching nuts developing on a tree, then returning in the autumn only to find that they have all been eaten by squirrels

In the case of beech nuts, however, this is not usually a problem. I know squirrels do eat them, but they are produced in such abundance, and at the same time as bigger treats such as walnuts and chestnuts, that the squirrels seem to leave the beech nuts alone, at least long enough for humans to get a look in

Practical Uses For Beech Nuts

It's common practice in some places for pigs to be allowed out to forage for acorns and beechmast (Beech nuts) - I suppose they don't mind crunching up the shells along with the kernels.

The nuts contain up to 20% fat in the form of a light oil, and they have historically been gathered and pressed to provide fuel for lamps and oil for lubrication of machinery

For The Wild Food Forager

The nuts are quite edible and tasty as a raw snack - again, shelling them is a chore, but in a survival situation, they would represent a worthwhile source of energy that could be gathered during daylight and processed and eaten back at camp

In The Kitchen

I reckon they would make a good substitute for pine nuts, lightly toasted and with the skins removed - although unlike pine kernels, they're only really available in the autumn, so they aren't quite such a natural ingredient for pesto, without resorting to expense over the other ingredients

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