Last weekend we were camping beneath several American beech trees (Fagus grandifolia). They had dropped their beechnuts and our camp site was covered with them.
The ones in the picture here are about the size (and roughly the same shape) as chocolate chips. They are not very big at all.
Beechnuts are one of those edible wild foods I had been wanting to try, but I had never seen them until last weekend. I recognized them immediately, then looked up and verified that we were under a beech canopy. Yup. I cracked one open on the spot and ate it. Then another, and another. I did this all weekend, as did several of the kids.
We collected beechnuts throughout the weekend. I was lucky in that one of the kids inexplicably didn’t like the taste of the nuts, but sure liked shelling them. I did her a favor and ate the ones she shelled.
By the time we were ready to roll out I had collected about one cup of nuts, and another one of the kids collected about twice that – and gave them to me. Score! I didn’t try to talk him out of it.
I did some Internet research to see if I could find an easy way to shell them, but so far, I’ve not turned up anything other than what we had been doing all weekend: start at a corner and peel off the shell. It’s a laborious task, and I would guess it will take me four hours to shell the three cups of nuts I brought home.
I popped them into the oven tonight to roast them. I let them go for 30 minutes at 300 degrees F, and man… if I thought they were good before, I was wrong! They are twice as good roasted as raw, and that’s saying a lot.
I will experiment with crushing them and trying to separate the nutmeat (aka mast) from the shells with water. I don’t know how well that will work.
I also tried popping a whole beechnut into my mouth and shelling it sunflower-style: crack with the teeth, find the kernel with the tongue, and spit out the shells. That kinda worked, but it crushed the meat making it difficult to get it all out. And this stuff is so good I don’t want to waste a single crumb.
As I experiment with shelling techniques, I will also continue to shell them one at a time and eat them as I go. I will either eat them all this way, or I will find a good way to do it more quickly. Then I’ll try to bake them into muffins or something.
I’ll keep you posted!