Let’s All Go Nuts!
Walnuts (and mushroom pate) –oil, beech nuts -oil, gingko (fried), acorn (noodles), hazelnut (risotto)pine, chestnut – oil extraction, flour, nut milk yoghurt
Drink: Chestnut liquor Irish-style coffee
I think it really is true that foragingcan drive you nuts. Nature is so generous throughout the year that her abundant gifts can be quite overwhelming. The autumn is no exception; indeed, it is the season of abundance par excellence. So, focussing on just one aspect of this bounteous plenty, let’s all give in and go nuts: Walnuts, Beech nuts, Gingko nuts, Acorns, Hazel nuts, Pine nuts and Chestnuts!
Recently I tallied up all the visible walnut trees in my local area. There are 56, 18 of which are on waste ground or in the hedgerow along public footpaths. They are, then, just waiting to be discovered.
English walnuts ripen through September – then often sold as ‘wet walnuts’, reaching their full-flavoured glory as they fall to the ground in October. Gathered and dried (shelled or unshelled) over a low heat and stored in a non-metallic airtight container, the nuts keep extremely well. In fact, preserved this way they are so superior to any foreign imports as to make such nuts seem rancid and disgusting in comparison! Between the stage in July when the nuts are green and without an inner shell – and are superb for pickling or making a liquor, and the wet walnut stage there is one other possible time for using them.That time is early to mid September when the nut is fully formed but still soft – soft as pâté. That’s when I make the following recipe.
Rich wild mushroom and soft walnut pâté
2lbs or 1kg parasol or field mushrooms
1 1b (450g) mixed richly flavoured mushroom e.g other agaricus species,
blewits, horn of plenty, orange birch boletes, a cep or two etc
1 lb (450g) soft walnuts
2 large onions
1 large sweet red pepper
1oz (30g) chives
1oz (30g) wild chervil or parsley
2 fl oz (60 mil) dry walnut liquor or dry sherry
2 cloves garlic
2 tspn balsamic vinegar
½ – 1tspnsea salt
½ tspn milled black pepper
pinch of ground nutmeg
First prepare the walnuts. Gather from the tree whilst still in their unbroken green outer casing. Bash the nuts with a hammer or give each one a firm stamp with the foot to reveal the inner nut (or boil for 30 mins, allow to cool then, wearing kitchen gloves, break off the now blackened outer cases and open with nut crackers or special walnut opener). Extract the inner nut and remove the flesh from the thin and bitter outer yellowish skin. Continue until you have 1lb of soft walnut flesh.
Chop the pepper in half and deseed. Peel and halve the onion. Place on a roasting tray and roast in a hot oven for 30 mins. Chop the 2 lbs of single variety mushrooms and place in a saucepan and pour over the walnut liquor or sherry. Cover, bring to the boil and then cook for 15 minutes until the mushrooms have released all their liquid. Remove from the heat and tip contents into a muslin cloth or open pillowcase lined bowl. Once cool enough to handle squeeze out as much liquid as is humanly possible and discard the dry residue. Return this to a clean pan and boil down until you are left with about 1 tbsp rich mushroom extract.
Fry the lb of mixed fungi in the butter until all liquid has evapourated, and then add in the chopped garlic, chives and chervil. Shallow fry for another minute.
Put ALL the ingredients into a food processor or liquidizer and blend to a smooth paste. Taste to see if it requires more salt and pepper. If so add a little more and liquidize again. Grease a small cake tin and spoon in the pate firming down. Bake at 190 deg C for 45 minutes. Cover and cool. It’s now ready to put on toast, crackers and savoury biscuits etc. It will keep in the fridge for a few weeks if covered.
Before you gather loads of nuts from a tree check one to see if it has reached the ‘pate stage’ of development; if it has then most probably so will all the others on the same tree.
For me, baking isn’t the last step. I remove the top skin and spoon it into hot sterilized kilner jars. These are then returned to the hot oven and heated for another 30 minutes. Once cooled, these keep unopened in a cool dark place for a long time.
Oil can also be extracted from the walnuts by grinding and compressing – either after roasting or without roasting. I’ve used a screw press and a work bench vice. In the latter case the nuts where put in a concertinad aluminium box with tiny holes in the bottom. It’s a lot of work for not a huge amount of oil but the flavour is superb. The nut residue can be used for cakes, biscuits and pastry.
Another seed said to produce good oil is that of Beech, known as beech must. The nuts – about the size of pine nuts, are only produced in significant quantities every 3-5 years. Where I am in the South East of England it looks set to be a very good year. The challenge – as with most nuts, is to get them before the squirrels. Indeed, pine nuts themselves can be harvested.
About every five years a large Stone Pine (Pinus pinea) in a cemetery near me provides excellent nuts when it produces cones 3-4 times the usual size. However a ladder is needed to take full advantage of such cropping. Left until they fall, only about 20% of the nuts will be left in the cone. Given this is such a rarity I always make a few jars or really good pesto to celebrate the occasion.
One more unusual nut is that of the Gingko tree (Gingko biloba) – often planted in parks and gardens. The female when pollinated by a nearby male produces a good crops most years – although the nuts aren’t as big as those sold in the tree’s native China. Look out for them in October when you will probably notice them first due to the nauseating stench of the fallen ripe fruit. Remove this wearing gloves and roast the nuts for 15 minutes in their shells before cracking and peeling the inner nut. In Asian cookery they’re used in a vast range of dishes – soups, with meat and poultry, in vegetarian dishes, as well as desserts. Raw they are slightly toxic so cooking is advised.
Corylus avellana, the common hazel or cobnut, grows wild in Britain but there are many other Corylus species to be found planted as ornamentals in public places – C. maxima, thefilbert and C. colurna the Turkish hazel for instance. The nuts of the latter two species are often considerably larger. I prefer to harvest them in September just before the nuts turn brown. Collected whilst still firmly in their outer papery casing they can then be left for a few days after which they easily slip out. After shelling, use them then as you would pulses such as in this hazelnut and wild mushroom ‘risotto’ below.
Once fully mature they are excellent for storing for later or for making nut yoghurt.
C. maxima ‘Purpurea’