Being caught in a painful hail of wind-driven beechnuts (a scene reminiscent of the bloody climax of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie And Clyde (1967)) prompted further investigation. My foodie sister-in-law had demonstrated the edibility of beechnuts during a ramble around Hampstead Heath’s lovely and lonely pergola – edibility, but not tastiness. I wondered if anything worthwhile might be made from the things.
The Oxford Companion To Food notes that beechnuts (or beechmasts, or just ‘masts’) have been gathered by humans for food since prehistoric times – but that their main use has been as pig-feed.
In general, beech nuts have been regarded as food for humans in times of famine or scarcity.
Hmm. Economic downturn notwithstanding, I’m not sure we’re quite at that point yet. But the Companion speaks more positively about beechnut oil (“above average in keeping quality and flavour”), which I shall have to look out for.
Needless to say, there are plenty of hedgerow-munching wild-food enthusiasts on the internet who can’t get enough of the insipid beechnut. They probably eat little else. They probably subsist on beechnuts and conkers.
Actually, this is unfair. They’re really all about the beech leaves (try the Springtime Fritters, although personally I’d be wary of any recipe where the ingredients list includes the words “whatever is to hand”). Beechnuts only turn up as a possible substitute for hazelnuts in a Hedgerow Salad (it seems to me that, from a certain perpective, a hedgerow is already a sort of salad).
I would search further, but Cookipedia has brought me up short with a grave warning that beechnuts “contain organic substances which are slightly toxic (it has been reported that eating approx. 50 nuts may make you ill)”.
I’ve only eaten one or two so far but I’m not taking any chances.
In related news, I found great pleasure the other day in listening for the percussive kettledrum bong as a squirrel in an oak tree dropped acorn husks upon a metal bin.