Wild Food Wednesday: Beechnuts

Beechnut-in-shellI’ve been eating beechnuts off of the forest floor for as long as I can remember. I like to roast them and eat them on their own as a treat, so this season I collected a few extra beechnuts to bring back to my kitchen. Read on for lots of beech nut facts, videos and a photo gallery and how to prepare a tasty snack!

From the Hiker’s Notebook:

Beechnuts are encased in a woody husk that is covered with spines, each containing  two irregularly triangular shiny brown edible nuts. They are only produced after the beech has reached the age of about 40 years; annual beechnut production ramps up at this point to reach maximum yields after at about the 60 year point. 

Beechnuts were eaten by  Native Americans and to a lesser extent by the early colonists, primarily when more desirable agricultural and faunal food sources were scarce.   The nuts are mildly toxic and have a high level of tannin, making them less desirable than alternative walnuts and hazelnuts, which were also consumed. Numerous Indian tribes, including the Potawatomi, Algonquin, Menominee and Ojibwe ate them raw, to no noted ill effect; beechnuts were also roasted and pounded into meal for bread and chewed as a means to expel worms, possibly taking advantage of their toxicity. Nuts were frequently collected by taking advantage of the hoarding habits of rodents; the tracks were  followed in snow to a cache in a hollow tree where as much as eight quarts of beechnuts might be found. The colonists ground beechnuts into powder as an ersatz coffee and pulped them to produce an oil that was used in cooking, as salad dressing,  and as fuel for oil lamps.

Harvest the nuts from the forest floor under beech trees. You can remove the spiny husk in the woods if you want to save space but leave the inner shell intact. If it’s split already, the nut is probably bad.

Removing the HuskBeech Nut Nibblers Recipe:

  • Peel as many beech nuts as possible. I recommend a great conversation, radio program or TV to accompany you and the pile of beech nuts. Dig your nail into a seam of the shell, peel back the opposite side. Check the first video below for a look at how to do that.
  • Heat the pan on low and melt 1 Tbs of butter
  • After the butter is melted, wait 1 minute and add the peeled nuts. Cook until golden brown, about 3-5 minutes
  • Sprinkle salt to taste (app. 1/2 tsp. per cup) and remove the nuts from the pan, place on a paper towel and cool. When cool, you may remove the papery skin of the kernel if you wish.
  • Nibble or toss over a salad.

Husked Beechnuts

A few more facts from the Adirondack Almanac & Eat the Weeds:

  • Like many nuts, beechnuts are packed with a wealth of nutrients. Foods analysts have determined that just over half of the nut is composed of fat.
  • This highly caloric matter is an essential dietary component for all creatures from late summer through the winter in order to develop and maintain their own reserves of fat.
  • Approximately one-third of a beechnut is made up of various types of carbohydrates and nearly 7% is in the form of plant protein.
  • Beechnuts are also known to be a great source of potassium and a superior source of manganese.
  • The nuts have are slightly toxic and it is found in the skin of the kernel (roasting allows that skin to be easily rubbed off.)

More Wild Food Wednesdays from eatdrinkTC!