Friday, June 26, 2009


American beech (Fagus grandifolia Ehrh.) seed

1 ounce of beechnuts contains 1.8 grams protein, 7 grams fat, 3 grams carbohydrates. and 6 calories.
(source: The Nut Factory)

One of the great features of fall is the ripening of beechnuts.

When one considers the fact that the kernel of a beechnut is so small that it may defy the force of gravity--not to mention the taste buds of man--it is difficult to imagine the import of this tiny seed.

But many things happen when beechnuts ripen--not the least of which is the fact that this natural phenomenon can anchor me beneath the low limbs of a beech tree where I shuck the twin hard inner shells out of their spiny covers, then shave off one side with my thumbnail (or the smallest blade of my Old Timer pocket knife) for a delightful woodland snack.

You will earn every tasty morsel you extract from a beechnut, but to experience this beautiful, woodsy taste of a ripe beechnut is well worth the effort . . . even the sore finger tips that will come with handling the spiny outer shells of the nuts.

I never know quite where to start in describing beechnuts. But when I think of the entire nut--including the spiny outer husks--I fancy that they are half trapezoidal and half pyramidal--a sort-of three-dimensional trapezoidal pyramid. The outer husks tend to split and yaw a bit as they begin to dry on the ends of beech twigs. If left alone the outer husks will open, as if hinged at their base, and the twin inner nuts, which remind me of little half pyramids, each having three sides, will tumble to the forest floor. It is inside these little compartments that the kernels (roughly the same shape) form.

Incidentally, each of the little inner nuts will show three sides, one of which is more flat than the other two. And that is where those who seek the tasty kernels attack.

Before the inner nuts are dry, this flat side can be removed by placing the thumbnail or knife blade under the base of this flat side and lift it off to reveal the kernel. Kernels often fit so snugly that the firm sides of the inner nuts appear swollen. The swollen sides of an inner nut are a sure-fire sign that a tasty treat awaits inside. But nuts that are not swollen still can offer great little nuggets.

The best way to harvest beechnuts is to pick them off the trees before they start to fall naturally. However, if the nuts have reached maturity and have fallen into the humus and dried leaves of the forest floor, a blanket or tarp, and a little effort will net plenty of the inner half-pyramids.

Just spread the blanket/tarp on the forest floor under the tree. Scoop leaves onto the blanket, gather the four corners and shake the blanket well. This will allow the nuts to fall to the surface of the blanket. The leaves can then be removed and the nuts separated from the other chaff of the forest floor. The nuts may also be gleaned by sifting through leaves on the forest floor with the fingers.

Although it is easier to extract the tiny kernels before the nuts lose all of their moisture, the meats of well-dried nuts are more crisp (and perhaps more tasty). Roasting the nuts in an oven or on the top of a wood-burning stove also produces good results.

Beechnut meats will add zip to salads and many other dishes, but it is difficult to extract enough for such purposes when they are so tasty as snacks.

Those interested in sampling beechnuts, must remember that the American beech tree is a temperamental species, especially so in terms of mast production. Some trees never produce nuts with well-formed kernels. Others produce only in some years. With this in mind, It is a good idea to check the nuts of a tree before inviting your friends out for snacks.

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