Creative Sustenance

Culinary and other adventures in foraging, gardening, urban farming and more, in Wisconsin and the Midwest.

Beechnuts - a union break from shelling

I'm really just making this blogpost as an excuse to take a break from the finger-fatiguing work of shelling beechnuts. Beechnuts are one of my favorite wild nuts to eat, but also one of the most tedious to shell. They're tiny, a challenge to hang onto, and require a little more finesse, and therefore focus, than, say, butternuts or walnuts, which you can just whack with a hammer. Beechnuts need to practically be peeled from their smooth three-sided carapace. Not a job for a blunt instrument or a distracted frame of mind. 

A small pile of even smaller autumn beechnuts.

My process is, in fact, to peel one of the three sides with a knife while pinching the back-side joint of the other two sides with the fingers of my other hand. I peel from upper point downward to the bulbous bottom, hopefully removing the shell side in one piece, whereupon I hope to use my thumbnails to pry apart the remaining shell sides to release the nutmeat within, whole. That's the way it usually works anyway, and the nut will practically fall out of its little teepee. Once in a while though, it requires more effort with the knife edge on one of the other shell sides. 

Here's a nutmeat (center foreground) revealing itself from its shell after I peeled one side off (it's still attached, like a drawbridge). The three leaves of a shell lie around another nutmeat to the right. Whole unshelled nuts on the left and shelled nutmeats on the upper right.

It's not necessarily a slow process. I can average two or three beechnuts per minute, depending on their size and how smoothly I'm able to perform the initial cut. But when the reward is a nutmeat the size of a pea and an hour worth of concentrated effort yields a third of a cup, it can seem more tedious than it probably actually is. But isn't it true that the best things often require the most effort? 

Shelled beechnuts. The papery skin, or testa, should be removed if possible. I'll rub a handful of nuts gently together between my palms to loosen the testa and then winnow it away.

Well, breaks over...back to work. I'll share how we use these beechnuts in the kitchen when we're done shelling. Talk to you again in a few months then I guess.


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