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 foraging can 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, focusing on just one aspect of this bounteous plenty, let’s all give in and go nuts:
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.
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’