Im going to focus on hazelnuts, walnuts and sweet chestnuts as I find these to be the most useful and hope to have interesting and useful things to share.
Just quickly; some of the other nuts you can forage and use are acorns, beech and pine. Personally I think they are a lot of hard work for little results though if you have a gluten free diet it might be useful to know you could make flour from acorn or chestnuts. Acorns can be high in tanins which are bad for your kidneys, so it is usually leeched out with water.
I thought it worth mentioning here that new leaf growth in the spring from many of these trees is tasty.
You may find Beech is more useful for that rather than the teeny tiny nuts, though Im told if youre lucky enough to have a press you can make lovely oil with them . Given how I use oils this is something I would very much like to own! (If you should hear of one being thrown out remember me).
Theres is always such a huge abundance of beech masts that everyone at some point must have thought about how they can be useful
Im talking about the 3 nuts in the order you are most likely to be finding them in the year.
The trees are more shrubs, so looking in hedgerows is a good start, I go towards the end of summer and if I find any pick them and eat them right away. When you eat nuts whilst they ae fresh and green like this, they are softer, wet and sweeter (kind of sweet in the way that carrots are) You can pick them and leave them to harden and dry to be more like the ones in the shops around christmastime
If you’re very lucky or you have your own trees that you a re able to keep squirel free you might find some that have dropped and some that have ripened and slightly hardened.
Check them for little holes left by the weevils, the squirels know not to eat these and there wont be anything edible inside.
Doormice also like hazel nuts and I couldnt resist sharing this very cute of photo of a sleeping one from The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Taken by Tom Chalmers
cute distraction; worth digressing for
So this is what your hazel nuts look like.
This is from TCV website which I highly recommend.
http://treegrowing.tcv.org.uk/grow/tree-recipes/hazel ‘TheConservationVolunteers’ do these useful information pages/guides for growing your own trees.
It’s easy and you might grow your own hazel.
I was lucky enough to find some ripe and ready just waiting to be picked up from the ground!
I shelled them with nutcrackers (ate quite a few) and then roasted the rest with a little almond oil and sea salt
snacked on a few more
Then stored them in honey. I think they’re nicer than salted caramel and nut brittle.
(yes I snaked on a few more..)
Inspired by such thought, this happened:
Recipe for ‘Nutty dessert glasses’
(makes x4 small glasses/bowls)
x1 tub mascarpone
about 24 hazel nuts (honey to drizzle)
400g soft brown sugar
150 ml from your bottle of hazelnut coffee porter (drink the rest wahey!)
chestnut puree (optional)
In the bottom place a few of the hazelnuts stored in local honey (you can just put shop bough ones in and drizzle them in honey)
Whip up a tablespoon of mascarpone with a good sized tablespoon of chestnut puree (recipe to follow, could add a bit of freshly squeezed orange instead or leave it plain)
(my my nails are clean that is from peeling chestnuts -it hurts might be bruised)
I then topped with granola (making granola is easy but I took photographs and will add a recipe later, google will help in the meantime)
place in the fridge whilst you make the caramel/syrup
I used 150ml of Saltiare brewery’s hazelnut coffee porter
I added around 100g of brown sugar turn up the heat to get it going and then turn down to a med/high
leave it to bubble and froth for around 5 mins
removed from the heat when its looking a bit thicker
the bubbles will die down and it should look like this
Get your gla ss(es) from the fridge, sprinkle in granola nd then drizzle over your caramel
Hazelnuts are also very good for baking with -bread too very nice with cheese 😉 I used walnut this way (coming next)
One of my favourite childhood trees was a big old walnut tree. I have recently been informed that they only produce nuts for 40 years -seems unlikely to me but then maybe my memory is influenced by the fact that I was much smaller then. It seems very old and I remember gathering and eating the walnuts, and there were always so many of them! It has been hard for me to find one producing the nuts abundantly, and even harder to beat the squirrels to them, nonethless I was lucky this year and managed a ‘haul’ of about 7. I think they’re likely the most difficult to forage.
These are what the leaves look like there were no nuts still on to photograph, just the peeled remnants of the squirrels feast 😦
Each leaft is devided into 7-9 ‘leaflets’ whcih might be able to see there.
The walnuts are inside a green tough skin, you can see some of the black through these, and on the peeled ones. This can be used as a natural die and ink. You might be able to see them leaking on the picture? fresh walnuts are also called wet walnuts or green walnuts. Once you crack the shell the familiar wrinkly walnut appears inside. They are much softer resh and have a much milder sweeter flavour. You can save and dry thm if you like. I nibbled on mine and baked a few in bread rolls with a traditional nettle wrapped cornish Yarg. They were delicious.
You can google a basic white bread roll recipe -I used the hairy bikers one.
If you are lucky enough to find more it would be great to have a go at making the dyes and inks. Or you might be able to get some fresh one at farmers markets. Of course thery dont have to be fresh to be useful and you can buy them to use in recipes. Apple walnut and gorgonzola are wonderful flavours in tarts and pastries. Baklava (walnut and pistachio) not just coffee and walnut cake -but why wouldnt want to make that? 🙂 and of course pastas and salads with walnuts and cheese, and walnut and basil pesto too.
Oh and who wouldnt like to make little boats out of the shells! http://madebyjoel.com/2010/04/walnut-boats.html
*intresting fact* The Romans associated the walnut with Juno, the Roman goddess of women and marriage and the wife of Jupiter. This association led to the unique wedding practice of throwing walnuts at the bride and groom as a symbol of fertility. Women often carried walnuts to promote fertility. The botanical name Juglans is derived from Jupiter’s glans.
moving swiftly on
Chestnuts are one of those trees that have both male and female flowers, the female flowers become the nuts in Autumn
The ancient Greeks dedicated the sweet chestnut to Zeus and its botanical name castanea comes from Castonis, a Town in Thessaly in Greece where the tree was grown for its nuts.
I am lucky to have a patch of very well established chestnut trees producing abundant amounts each, which is within walking distance (as are all of the nuts Ive foraged this year)
I estimate I picked around 2lbs that have gone into purees/preserves, pies and have been eaten as snacks, this is a teeny tiny fraction of what falls onto the ground and rots away.
you can cut a cross in the flat side or a slit along the edge top to bottom, some find that easier but there is a far greater risk of slipping, thus uts harder to do whilst watching a film or something, quite tricky without a chestnut knife I found so I opted fro the cross in the flat side. You need heat and moisture to make the shells easier to work with. You can roast, boil or even wrap a handful in a damp towel and place in the microwave for a couple of minutes. I found a very hot tea towel a bit of a nuisance/pain (literally) and I prefer the flavour of roasted (which could be done after if you find them easier to peel from the microwave) If you have a lot to do it will take you longer than the oven or boiling. Theres not that much difference/if any at all in the ease of peeling with each method. Peel an eat or set aside for use (I had to put mine in the fridge overnight) soft/moist/protein, means that they could likely spoil easily. You usually use them straight away.
The membranes can be bitter if you dont peel them off it is almost as painstaking as deseeding rosehips. I left them on for the next recipe. It didn’t taste bitter.
Chestnut preserve/jam and puree
NOTE: This recipe makes 2 batches one with milk/cream for quick-ish use (milk/cream will spoil) and one with water
300-350g of chestnuts (peeled and roasted divide into 2 pans)
2 cups milk (or cream)
2 cups of water
2 cups golden sugar
x1 vanilla pod
x4 tbspn dark rum
add the milk/cream to one pan and the water to the other and a cup of soft golden sugar to both
Bring to the boil, reduce, and simmer
when the liquid has mostly absorbed and the nuts are just going crumbly on the outsides lift them out with a slotted spoon and whizz in the food processor
cut you vanilla pod in half and scrape one half into each pan and add the rum
add the liquid from the pan to the processor, til you reach your desired consistency
(you may wish to add more boiled water/milk/cream or brandy. The water needs to be boiled if you are treating this as a preserve)
TIP: if you’re making both, start with the water one then you dont have to wash everything before doing the other! (get in)
This part is optional, I pressed my puree through a seive for a couple of jars as it has such a pleasant texture
I didnt do this for all of it as its time consuming, and seemed a little wasteful. I couldnt get it all through, what didnt go through I stirred back into mixture that I wasnt going to be seiving. If you liked tou could make 3 different grades of thickness the seives the unseived and the thicker left behind -they can have different uses. I added more rum to one of mine and we dipped toasted marshmallows in it 🙂
ladle into your warm sterilied jars and label, when cool, place in the fridge.
Chestnut, mushroom and ale pie.
25g packet of dried porcini (or equivelant if you forage your own)
4 portobello mushrooms
packet of chestnut mushrooms
100-200g of roasted chestnuts
handful of fresh thyme or parsley
1 red onion
3 cloves garlic
100g of red camargue rice (or wild rice)
150ml of dark ale
100g of plain or corn flour
x1 packet puff pastry (I got ready rolled and found one which stated ‘sustainable palm oil’ on, I felt dubious and glad I dont usually buy ready made)
This made me x5 little ramekin pies and this pudding bowl one. You might prefer to make a larger family sized one.
Add your rice with water according to the packet and simmer til cooked, a darker rice with a firmer grain will add texture and bite to your pie
preheat the oven
as it cooks add the buttter to a heavy bottomed pan and soften the onions and garlic
Slice the chestnuts thinly and add to the pan
place your dried wild mushrooms (or porcini) in a jug with 300ml of boiling water
and chop your mushrooms something like 5mm (not too thin)
add all the fresh mushrooms to the pan and cook until soft
Then add your reconstituted ones and save the water/juice.
splash the ale over the ingredients in the pan
Put your flour into a jug, slowly adding this juice/water from the mushrooms which will still be warm and stir quickly
Add this to the mushrooms and stir quickly to coat everything as it thickens
chop your thyme and drain the cooked rice (if necessary) it should feel firm but cooked
add the rice and thyme to your pan and stir well
season to taste
prepsre your ramekins/pie dished and roll our your pastry. Use a cutter to stamp out the lids, or turn over your dish and cut out with a knife.
ladle the filling into your ramekins/pie dish and place the pastry on top you could seal with a fork around the edges
or leave the gravy to ooze out a little as I did 🙂 it looks a much tastier pie this way to me 🙂
glaze with milk or egg, pop in the oven for 20-30 mins on 220 oc