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sown. FOR CENTURIES WE HUMANS HAVE joined the squirrels and the raccoons, the turkeys and the boars, the deer and the chipmunks in the harvest of fall nuts. Nutting was once serious business, a matter of survival, of storing sustenance for the coming winter. So it was with Native Americans and colonists, and with European peasants-and so it remains today among people still living a hand-to-mouth existence with the earth. Few foods offer nutrition as completely and as compactly as the nut. Botanically, it is a seed, the embryonic life of a tree. But in effect, it is a hermetically sealed energy capsule, packed with protein and fat; a nourishment concentrate. Most people today go nutting for pleasure. The nuts remain the quarry, but nuts aplenty (though perhaps of less noble bearing) can be had in any grocery store. Nutting, on the other hand, puts you inside the fall forest kaleidoscope, every step acrunch in leaves, the air crisp and laden with the musky scent of autumn. There is no better time to be in the woods, and no better excuse (whether or not you need one) than to be gathering tasty nuts. Ah, there's the crux of the matter: Not all nuts are tasty. Some are astonishingly bitter. Others, though toothsome, require extreme determination, if not demolition, if one is to crack them apart-and then they may yield little more than a smidgen of edible kernel. Most folks know a nut when they see one, but what kind of nut is it, and is it worth picking up?
Acorns No matter how many mothers have told their children otherwise, acorns are not poisonous; they are one of the oldest foods known to man. Evidence of their consumption has been found amid the debris in Paleolithic cave dwellings. They were the staff of life for many Native American groups, who ground the nuts into meal for bread and mush. The Pilgrims found baskets of roasted acorns hidden in underground chambers and, noting the nuts' similarity in taste to that of chestnuts, welcomed oak mast into their diet. A wise move: Acorn kernels provide a complete vegetable protein, up to 707o by weight in some species. More than half their bulk consists of energy-rich carbohydrates. Amazingly, the annual nut crop from oak trees in North America surpasses the combined yearly yield of all other nut trees, both wild and cultivated. (So if you're wondering whether gathering up a bushel or two of acorns will deprive some creature of sustenance, worry not.) There are more than 60 species of oak trees in North America, and every one of them produces edible
Pick only fresh nuts. have rounded lobes. duskygray bark has served as a scratch pad for generations of lovers and others with something. taste a few before you gather quantities. you may want to save that first batch of tanninrich water. Fortunately. Boil the kernels whole for 15 minutes. leaving behind palatable nuts. however. sunburn and rashes. either raw or roasted (bake them in a slow. to say. exceptionally sweet acorns can be eaten as they are. red-oak variety: pin. White-oak acorns may require only one or two changes of water. on which Daniel Boone . are more edible than others. red. Generally. however. To distinguish between the two groups. Regardless of the type of acorn you find. then forage from the best among them. and discard any specimens that appear moldy or that have worm or insect holes (this is good practice. and add fresh and so on. thanks to their high content of tannin. boil for another 15 minutes. of course. But even "sweet" varieties can be too bitter for some tastes. an astringent substance. Once you've removed their caps and shelled them. on the other hand. white. though. Acorns vary in bitterness not only from species to species. look at the leaves of the tree in question. bur. If the leaf lobes (the projections around the outer edge) are distinctly pointed.acorns. anything. until the water is only barely tinted. pour the water off. Most acorn fans. add fresh water. nuts from trees in the red-oak group have a bitter taste.) Once the tannin has been removed. gambel (also known as Rocky Mountain white) and post oaks are examples of sweet-acorn types. can be substituted for up to half the flour in any recipe. 250° to 300°F. Tennessee. chances are the nut was produced by a red. tannin is soluble in water and can be extracted. or pulverize the kernels with a mortar and pestle. Beechnuts There is no mistaking the handsome American beech (Fagus grandifolia). black. light brown and pleasant tasting. And it was a beech tree in Washington County. and white. scarlet and willow oaks are members of the family. (Incidentally. the nut probably is from a white oak. when gathering any variety of wild nuts). Sample some nuts from several different trees. contain less tannin and produce acorns that are considerably sweeter. but from tree to tree. the tree is most likely a bitter-acorn. The earliest Sanskrit characters were inscribed on strips of beech bark. Oaks are broadly divided into two groups: red (or black) oaks. Chestnut. White-oak leaves. it is a wonderfully soothing topical wash for bee stings. if it's fuzzy. oven for about an hour). insect bites. and in some places only red-oak acorns are easily available. pour the water off (it will be brown with tannin). Another distinguishing feature is the inner surface of an acorn's cap: If it's smooth. White oaks. while red-oak nuts may need many. like to grind the nuts into meal—just put them through a blender or grain mill. Some. Acorn meal. Its strikingly smooth. roast the nuts and use them as you will. They're good finely chopped and added to bread or muffin dough. live.
Though still abundant. the victims of chestnut blight. Eventually. triangular nuts that ripen-usually by first frost-and drop to the ground. Beechnuts have a thin shell that you can peel off with a fingernail. but are longer and more deeply toothed. some specimens measuring in excess of 120 feet tall and six feet around. Unfortunately. so dry them in full sun for a day or two (you or the family dog will have to stand guard over them). stands of majestic chestnuts. ." (That tree lived until 1916. one of these seedlings produces a small nut crop for one or two seasons before succumbing to the blight. fresh chestnuts—which were reportedly far superior in taste to the Italian and Chinese chestnuts we eat now—was a traditional autumn activity. the burs split open. and many continue to send up sprouts. its similar-looking Old World cousin. the beech's toothed. On occasion. spear-shaped leaves turn a rich copper color or a near-luminous pale yellow and begin to fall. settlers recognized the beech as a sign of good soil. Gathering bushels of sweet. prickly burs. revealing reddish twigs and small. As the disease spread from New York westward. As they mature. it was estimated to be 365 years old. though. the European beech ( F. covered a range of more than 200 million acres east of the Mississippi. but no article on edible wild nuts is complete without mention of this once-great tree. then. demonstrating the chestnut's superior rot-resistance. so your best bet is to try to gather them from lower branches just before they're ready to fall. you'll get a few before the squirrels and raccoons do. The flesh is sweet and nutritious: nearly 20°70 protein! Fresh nuts spoil quickly. "D Boone cilled a bar on tree in year 1760.) In autumn. and the kernels can be hard to see once they're scattered among leaves. Though the American beech is strictly an eastern tree. except for a few isolated specimens. and countless trees fell to the ax and plow. Today. Competition for beechnuts is fierce among four-legged creatures. or roast them in a slow oven. exposing two (sometimes three) small. If you're lucky. most living chestnut trees are identifiable by their sapling size and by the old. Sadly. sylvatica ) also produces edible nuts and has become naturalized both in the Northeast and in western coastal states. some of which survive a dozen or more years. all the great trees are gone. weathered stumps from which they grow.carved the famous missive. Their leaves resemble a beech's. American beeches once covered vast stretches of the Midwest from Kentucky to central Michigan. a fungus carried to this country at the turn of the century on planting stock imported from the Orient. infected trees were cut down in a futile attempt to halt the blight. which relied on beech mast for much of its diet. from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Chestnuts and Chinquapins Your chances of coming across a nut-bearing American chestnut (Castanea d entata) are almost nil. their demise also contributed to the extinction of the passenger pigeon. Less than 100 years ago. The stumps remain.
you'll have to extract the nutmeat from the shell. and though they are also susceptible to blight. except the far north. this is a matter of picking them up as soon after they fall as possible (sometimes a minute or two is none too early).) And third. the tree survives throughout its original range: nearly all the eastern half of the U.S. and let them dry in the thin October sun. It's best to face facts. Both kinds of chinquapins yield sweet. The Allegheny chinquapin (C. black walnuts were felled en masse to meet the demand for gunstocks. First. Both the bur and the shell are difficult to remove. slip on a pair of rubber gloves and cut and scrape the husks away with a knife. eastern Oklahoma and southern Missouri. dark wood than for its tasty nuts. much of the husk remains anyway. There are three formidable challenges to be met in harvesting black walnuts. you must remove the nut from the husk before the flesh decomposes and saturates the inner shell and kernel with bitter brown juice. pumila). deeply toothed leaves. but they yield-in miniature-the taste of a bygone era. give them a good hard hosing to wash away bits of husk. In a few weeks the green fruit falls. however. only the northern California walnut (F. enclosed in smooth. Too often. (That juice. The black walnut is easy to identify. Just before and during both conflicts. Second. America's black walnut (Fuglans nigra) is one of the great unknown victims of the two world wars. revealing clusters of one-and-one-half-to two-inch-diameter green globes-the nuts. they are a bit more resistant and bear much earlier. In the West. fleshy husks. it grows in a limited range encompassing western Arkansas. Black Walnuts Prized even more for its rich. its leaves turn yellow and drop off. and slowly turns black as the husk decomposes. though. small chestnutlike nuts (they look like flattened acorns). with each kernel encased in a hard shell within a prickly. incidentally. thicket like shrub than a tree. Euell Gibbons suggested wearing heavy boots and simply toeing the husks off against the ground. ozarkensis) is a small tree with long. beginning early in the season. hindsii) produces nuts approaching the size and quality of its eastern cousin's. roasted or boiled. This makes for a messy driveway. don old clothes. you must get to the nuts before the squirrels. All manner of methods have been devised for dehusking walnuts. round bur. particularly in the fall when. Others dump the nuts in their driveways and let a couple of days of traffic squash the husks off. Put the freshly hulled nuts on an old window screen. there are four other native walnut species with extremely limited ranges. . and the nuts tend to shoot out in all directions from under rubber tires. Chinquapins can be eaten raw. really more a tall. is an indelible dye that simply does not wash off clothing or skin.The chinquapins are close cousins of the American chestnut. The Ozark chinquapin (C. Its range extends from southern Pennsylvania through most of the Southeast to Texas. sports similarly shaped but less deeply toothed leaves than its cousins. Of them. too. Still. at only two or three years old.
The hickory is the consummate "pioneer tree. bristly hairs that give off a near-permanent brown dye.) The nut inside is oval. You can buy special nutcrackers. so it's important to shell and use butternuts soon after you've husked and dried them. You have to smash your way in. Hickory Nuts Hickories-in all. The fruit is elliptical. bread or muffins. so its foliage overall appears sparse. the butternut (Fuglans cinerea) ranges farther north. hickories are both a joy and a frustration. Though its leaves resemble those of the black walnut and its crown is similarly rounded and open. narrow egg. with a whopping 27. (Time to get out the old clothes and rubber gloves again. like a long. place a nut on the rock. the two most desirable nut hickories display a distinctive trait belied by their names: The shellbark hickory (Carya laciniosa) has rough.Walnuts. sweet nutmeats. and has a thin. some 20 species and subspecies—are widespread throughout the eastern and central United States. No problem. 61. extending into New England and parts of Canada. green outer husk covered with fine. like most other nuts. . Once you've tried black walnut pieces in homemade ice cream. This is as good an excuse as any to put off the difficult job of cracking them open and removing the kernels.000 calories to the pound. Not so the black walnut. Fortunately. and is generally smoother. too. The inner surface of the husk produces an equally powerful orange dye. the butternut wears fewer leaflets on longer stems. or tackle the job the old-fashioned way: Put a flat rock in a cardboard box. Though several kinds yield delicious. and then pick out the pieces of edible nut from the fragments of hard shell. Butternuts A close relative of the black walnut and otherwise known as the white walnut. oily kernel inside each shell can go rancid quickly. keep best in the shell. nigra to crack. When you're a nut gatherer. with a deeply ridged and pitted shell that's almost but not quite as difficult as 1. The thin. others produce fruit that is bitter or almost all shell.207o fat and about 3. Wild nut aficionados rank cinerea kernels near the top in taste. raw or roasted. butternuts are sweet and delicious straight from the shell. fragrant. and smack it with a hammer. Its bark is distinctly lighter than the black walnut's dark gray or brown bark." not only because of its importance to early settlers as a food source but also because of the hard. Commercial English or Persian walnuts open easily and yield whole or half kernels. or baked in cake or pastry. It's not always easy to tell one kind from the other. The butternut ranks among the highest in food energy of edible nuts. but not as far south. durable wood it provided (and still provides) for tools and tool handles.907o protein. you'll know the reward is worth the effort. Butternut trees bear early-at just two or three years of age.
has five leaflets per leaf. when ripe. yields sweet but small (some would say minuscule) nutmeats within a thick shell. meaty and delicious. green husk that. the shagbark hickory (C. thin-shelled. along the entire Mississippi River Valley and through much of eastern Texas and Oklahoma. encountered the huge spreading trees. Little wonder that many Indian tribes prized the pecan above all others. green-husked fruit in clusters of three to 10. The nut husks are thin and flecked with yellow. Both types bear a nut encased in a thick. the pecan (Carya illinoensis) is our most important native nut tree and has earned a special niche in our culture and cuisine. Depending on the individual tree. the mockernut's seven or nine leaflets per leaf give off a characteristically pungent odor when crushed. and. it's easy to identify. the nuts may taste sweet or bitter. The pecan is the ideal nut: easy to harvest. Another common thick-husked variety. ovata) has an even more distinctly fringed trunk. The bitternut hickory has the smallest leaves in the family-seven to nine leaflets on a relatively short stem-and the buds at the ends of its twigs are bright yellow. Dozens of new pecan varieties have been developed since the turn of the . This waste is particularly puzzling because the pecan. loose strips of bark that often shed and accumulate at the foot of the tree. glabra). Pecans Actually a hickory. some more than 120 feet tall and four feet in diameter. the shellbark generally sports seven leaflets per leaf and yields thick-shelled (but nonetheless meaty and tasty) nuts. pale brown nuts fall to the ground. They're easier to crack than walnuts or butternuts. heaviestbearing trees and cutting them down. is the bitternut (C. The trees were so numerous that it was common practice among our forebears to harvest pecans each year by selecting the largest. tomentosa). The pignut hickory (C. separates to the base in four parts. with long. readily drops its nuts. which bears its oval. One of the most widely distributed hickories. cordiformis). like the shagbark. Native Americans are believed to have extended the range of the pecan by planting the nut as they traveled the Mississippi River and its tributaries. and the least desirable for nuts. later. the husks split into four crescent-shaped pieces and the ripe. settlers venturing west of the Appalachians. the mockernut hickory (C. but each nut is encased in a thin husk that seldom separates all the way to the base. hickories keep well in the shell once husked and dried. The shagbark hickory usually has five leaflets per leaf and produces relatively thin-shelled nuts. but the job still calls for a hammer or some other tool of brute force. Usually by mid-autumn. Like walnuts. Luckily.loose bark that separates in narrow strips. Spaniards exploring the New World.
the sugar pine. particularly if you do so in late summer. Evidence of their consumption has been found in fire pits at archaeological sites in Nevada dated 6. have been a staple among Indians of the region for millenia. Moisture causes the cones to swell and hold the kernels tightly. Spread a tarp on the ground beneath the tree. Gathering pinon nuts can be sticky business. Pine Nuts What the West lacks in deciduous nut-bearing trees it more than makes up for with nut-bearing pines. a trendy gourmet item of late. Some tribes are said to have forbidden their consumption by pregnant women. and pick out the nuts that fall to the cloth. in the deep Southwest. Still. rich-tasting kernels. for example. when the cones begin to open and take on a brownish color but before they're releasing the nuts.century. At 3. pinons are hardly diet food. making delivery difficult. The cones must be dried in hot sun for several days or charred in a fire to drive off the resin and open the cones sufficiently to free the nuts. An easier approach is to wait till late September or October. fully half the market crop is produced from native species. coulteri). sabiniana). the single-leaf pinon (P. There are several species of pinon (also commonly spelled pinyon): In extreme southern California. though. The last is the state tree of New Mexico and the major source of pinon nuts harvested for market in this country. the widespread common pinon (P. monophylla). cembroides). Some of these produce enormous quantities of edible kernels. Pinon nuts. for fear that the nuts would fatten the babies too much. in southern California and Nevada. but their shells crack easily and yield whole. Gather all you can find. lambertiana) and Digger pine (P. sugar pine (P. are produced by the scrubby little pinon pine. edulis). Pinons produce a large crop only every three or four years. Wild pecans may be a bit smaller than their commercial counterparts. a familiar tree throughout the arid Southwest. so choose a hot. Going from tree to tree. There are no bitter or inedible pecan types. the Mexican pinon (P. quadrifolia). Coulter pine (P. shake the tree hard a few times. The largest and tastiest pine nuts. when the green cones are still closed and heavy with resin.000 calories to the pound. packed with seeds. the Parry pinon (P. Among the different species native to the West that produce delicious edible nuts are ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa). sunny day following several days of dry weather. . and the nut is grown commercially in orchards from Georgia to California. you can gather several pounds of nuts in just an hour or so using this technique-if it's a good year for the nuts.000 years old. sweet. produces huge cones up to 18 inches long and four inches across. and through much of the Southwest.
just crack the shell between your teeth and eat the inner meat. slow your pace to a careful scrutiny of the forest floor and leafy canopy.Two other methods.. Pinons can be consumed one at a time. so the animals won't be without food for the winter. added to baked goods or sprinkled in soups and on salads. are commonly used to harvest pinons. You'll soon learn why we humans. Wildlife officials in areas where this is common practice ask that the pinon plunderers replace the nuts with pinto beans. where considerable quantities of pinons may be stored. like sunflower seeds. The other is to rob the nests of pack rats and squirrels. If You Go Out in the Woods Today. unfortunately. One is to cut the entire tree down (sound familiar?). To process larger quantities. Pinons are great in granola and trail mix. Next time you go for a walk in the autumn woods. and gather up some of nature's best-tasting and most nutritious foods. take a sack with you. roast the nuts in a low (300° F) oven until the shells turn brittle. raw or roasted. even before we were humans. Then spread the nuts on a counter top or a table and use a rolling pin to crack the shells and free the kernels. have always been nuts about nuts.. .
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