(…if you can beat the squirrels of course!)
The following post was kindly provided by Woodlore Aspirant Instructor Sarah Day
During a walk around a local wood, I noticed the ground was littered with thousands of ripe chestnuts – while I picked some of those (extricating them from their spikey cases with the toe of my boot) more were falling out of the trees; luckily none hit me – I imagine it would have hurt! It makes me wonder how people would have extracted the nuts thousands of years ago when most folk would presumably have been barefoot or wearing soft moccasins – maybe they just squashed the cases with a log then picked out the nuts?
It was interesting trying to notice clues as to which husks held the best nuts. Obviously some of them were bigger, but I found the best way to tell was to look at the back. Where the nuts had grown to a fairly good size there was a cross of un-spikey husk showing – some of these held 2 or 3 good sized nuts. The other clue was to avoid husks that were browner in colour, as these had mostly fallen before the nuts were ripe or had already been raided (and rejected) by squirrels; I concentrated instead on husks that were still light green.
Some of the nuts contained little worms although no holes were visible on the shells – I expect their eggs were laid before the fruits formed and the holes are made as the mature insect burrows out. The main indication of bugs inside was that the shells were shrivelled, usually around the top of the nut. Some trees seemed much more affected than others, so if you’re out foraging and are finding a large proportion of buggy chestnuts, it may be worth moving to a different tree. Some trees were much more productive than others, with most cases containing 3 huge chestnuts, wheras on some trees nearly all the nuts were shriveled or full of bugs!
The other innovation was that it was far more efficient to kick several into a pile (preferably on the hard surface of the path!) and squash them at the same time – I wonder if in the past it could have been a group activity, with everyone joining in – especially if it was a case of beating not only the ever present squirrels and other rodents, but presumably wild boar!
The other picture is beefsteak fungus – edible, grows on oak, turns the wood a rich dark colour – furniture makers love it! Very tasty, but can be bitter – soaking overnight in milk or water helps. Does not taste like steak unfortunately!