Ôfully ripe wal­nuts won’t keep very long–but then, why would you wait?

Country Life Every Week - - Kitchen Garden Cook Sweetcorn -

south­ern Euro­pean cousins. Nor do they do so re­li­ably, with only one in ev­ery 10 trees dis­posed to pro­duce anything but empty husks in any one year.

Mid Oc­to­ber is har­vest time and itõs best to col­lect only those that are on the ground as they will be ripe. Like the hazel­nut, those that fall ear­lier will be empty. The shiny (and slightly hairy) nuts are best re­moved from their ex­traor­di­nar­ily prickly husks by gen­tly stamp­ing on them, col­lect­ing the nuts that are thus ejected.

The Bri­tish have a nar­row view of the sweet chestnut as a food, con­sign­ing it to a haz­ardous roast­ing on an open fire at Christ­mas. How­ever, for me, itõs a kitchen es­sen­tial. I make mine into a flour (la­bo­ri­ous, but worth­whileñ or you can buy it ready-made), which can be added to bread, bis­cuits, pas­try and cakes, made into pan­cakes or used to make a roux in a cheese sauce or to thicken the juices of a game pie. In fact, you can put it in nearly ev­ery­thing and, in all these things, it trans­forms from the mun­dane to the glo­ri­ous.

The wal­nut tree also grows rea­son­ably well in Bri­tain, although itõs a na­tive of warmer climes and can be an un­re­li­able fruiter. Itõs cer­tainly not a wild tree as it was in­tro­duced, pos­si­bly in Ro­man times, and any you find will be planted in mu­nic­i­pal gar­dens, around car parks or in aban­doned do­mes­tic gar­dens. I even know of a row of them grac­ing a more than usu­ally en­light­ened in­dus­trial es­tate. Of course, you may have one in your gar­den, in which case, there will be no need to for­age in such un­likely places.

The wal­nut is­nõt noted for be­ing poi­sonous, so I won­der, there­fore, at a report from the Scots Mag­a­zine of 1780, which de­tails the sad fate of a Miss Buck­worth of Mid­dle­sex whose Ôdeath was oc­ca­sioned by eat­ing an im­mod­er­ate quan­tity of wal­nutsõ. It could be an early case of nut al­lergy or per­haps she loved them well, but not wisely and ate a cou­ple of pounds.

Not­with­stand­ing this tragedy, the wal­nut is a su­perb food and much un­der­used. I par­tic­u­larly love wal­nut oil, as it will raise a salad dress­ing above any made with olive oil and a choco­late brownie with bro­ken wal­nuts in it will have you weep­ing with joy. Im­ma­ture (green) wal­nuts can be used in mak­ing an Ôin­ter­est­ingõ drink by cut­ting them into quar­ters and in­fus­ing for six weeks in gin, sugar and a few spices. How­ever, itõs a lit­tle medic­i­nal for my tasteñrather like the ghastly Ôwin­ter mix­tureõ sweets my grand­mother so lovedñbut you might like it. A lit­tle riper and youõll have wet wal­nuts. The flesh is less bit­ter, soft rather than crunchy and, well, wetña del­i­cacy in­deed. Fully ripe wal­nuts will be just what you would ex­pect, although they wonõt keep very longñbut then, why would you wait? In con­trast, beech nuts are at the very edge of ed­i­bil­ity. They are small, in­fre­quent and not ex­actly the most ex­cit­ing of wild foods as far as taste is con­cerned, as theyõre high in tan­nin. Why bother then, one might sen­si­bly ask? Most of the time, the small and prickly shells

Nuts are for life, not just for Christ­mas: sweet chest­nuts (above) and wal­nuts (be­low) are greatly un­der-utilised by many of us

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