Nuts About Nuts

No posts for ages, then two in a row.

Last year I found a supply of foragable sweet chestnuts. The nuts were very small, but looked edible enough.  I gathered some but never got round to eating them, and they dried out. I discovered that I could break off both the dried shell and the furry husk, which tastes dry and bitter if left. This leaves a small kernel that I could rehydrate, boil and use as a vegetable. I was contemplating returning this year, but have found a supply of much better ones. This lot I gathered in about five minutes, and look forward to roasting soon.

Sweet Chestnuts, last year's dried out nuts and this year's.

Sweet Chestnuts, last year’s dried out nuts and this year’s.

I’m very surprised such lovely big nuts were available in such profusion. Perhaps people don’t know what they are, or perhaps they distain them in favour of nice clean supermarket nuts. Perhaps they fear contamination. I wonder if we, as a nation, have completely lost touch with the countryside or the foraging potential of parkland.

Last year was a mast year and there were loads of acorns on Tiptree Heath. I was too busy to gather some, which is a shame because there are none this year. Acorns, as they stand, are toxic because of the high concentrations of tannins. Toxic to humans and to horses, so it would have benefitted the ponies if I had reduced their risk of consumption. Fortunately the ponies on the heath are sensible about acorns and didn’t eat them. In the New Forest, sadly, horses die every year from eating acorns. (Pigs, on the other hand, love them and can digest them.)

So if they are toxic to humans, why would I gather them? Apparently the bitter tannings can be leached out of the nuts. I fancied trying this, mostly out of gastronomic curiosity, but also because it was one of the staple foods I read about when researching Gladiatrix.

In the US acorns are sweeter, and have been a mainstay of the indigenous peoples.

A few weeks ago I also foraged for hazelnuts. Then a dear friend gave me some from her garden. I have a dream one day to plant an orchard and nuttery. I think I shall be opting for a cultivated variety of cobnut. They are lovely when fresh, with a particular milky texture that has vanished by the time the nuts come in for Christmas.

Wild and domesticated hazelnuts

Wild and domesticated hazelnuts

Certainly nuts seem to be a better way of obtaining concentrated nutients than gathering miniscule seeds



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6 responses to “Nuts About Nuts

  1. Mira

    I a hedge made of red hazelnut bushies! I love the nuts, very small, but so sweet 🙂 Here only foregable chestnuts are unfortunately horse chestnuts, which I only like when roasted…

    • I thought horse chestnuts were at best inedible, and were mildly poisonous.

      The red hazelnuts are beautiful. If I ever get my “dream orchard” I’d like some included in my not-quite-wild hedge.

      • Mira

        You can definately eat conkers after blancing! I don’t like them without roasting though…they have quite high nutritional value and were used in the Nodics a lot during famin, today they are still prepared for animal feed in some countries 🙂

      • That’s really interesting. I was thinking of blanching some acorns to make flour for bread, but missed out last year. This year has been great for sweet chestnuts but I certainly didn’t know you could eat horse chestnuts.

        Is it both the pink flowered and the white flowered types, Mira?

  2. Mira

    Yep 🙂 You can use both…I have loads of acorns in my garden and have used those previous years. Thiis year my almond tree is producing so much though that I am hopefully going to have enough nut flour for the whole winter. I do most of my sweet baking with nut flours, mixed almond and hazelnut flour being my favourite 🙂

    • I think I shall be picking your brains, then.

      With my chestnuts I’m mixing them with ordinary bread flour, which of course has gluten and is high GOI, so not suitable for everyone, but it’s OK for me. I have made a ferment and will make the bread tomorrow.

      I was making some bread today, and my hands got mucky despite using a kenwood. But then I got to thinking about how perhaps with modern hygiene we’re just not infecting our bread with useful organisms like Lactobacilli. Maybe that’s another reason to bake our own. Maybe people’s bread used to arrive with a useful dose of the bacteria needed to cope with the fibre.

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