Roast sweet chestnuts on an open fire (however, you can also cook them in the oven). Gathering sweet chestnuts is relatively simple, however it’s important to be able to distinguish them from horse chestnuts, or conkers, which are slightly different. Horse chestnuts are usually larger than sweet chestnuts, and taste very bitter. What’s more, horse chestnuts are poisonous.
Sweet chestnuts are smaller than horse chestnuts, and have lots of very prickly spikes on their outer shells (many more spikes than the horse chestnut). You can further identify a sweet chestnut by opening up the outer shell. It will reveal up to three sweet nuts, whereas opening up a horse chestnut will just reveal one. Once you have gathered your sweet chestnuts you can roast them on the open fire, or toast them under the grill or in a wok, for a tasty wintry feast.
Hazelnuts are often found in countryside hedgerows. Once you have gathered your hazelnuts, you will need to store them in a cool, dry place for up to six weeks prior to shelling them. This allows them to dry and become edible. To crack the nuts after they have dried requires a great deal of patience. You should aim to break the nuts open with a nut cracker, however you may find you resort to using a hammer before the day is out.
The pine nut is widely available in the U.K. Simply heat over an open fire on a flat surface (pan), which will open the husk of the cone, shake occasionally to release the seed from the husk, then eat the roasted nut seeds. Pine nuts may be eaten raw but are usually roasted or toasted. As with most nuts, toasting brings out more flavour. Especially good in salads and an essential ingredient in Pesto, or as an added ingredient in many savoury and sweet recipes: the flavour and texture goes very well with meats, cheese, vegetables and fruit. Pine nuts are an excellent source of protein (about 31g of protein per 100g of nuts), more than any other common nut. European varieties have more protein than American varieties. Collect pine needles make a lovely Pine Needle Tea too!
The acorn, or oak nut, is the nut of the oaks. . Acorns vary from 1–6 cm long and 0.8–4 cm broad. Acorns take between about 6 or 24 months (depending on the species) to mature. Acorns are nutritious and plentiful. Percentages vary from species to species, but all acorns contain large amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats, as well as the minerals calcium, phosphorus and potassium, and the vitamin niacin. Total food energy in an acorn also varies by species, but all compare well with other wild foods and with other nuts. Unfortunately, acorns taste bitter. This is because they contain tannin, a bitter substance in oaks which is used to tan leather. These can be removed by boiling in water, and changing the water a few more times. Repeat this process until all of the bitter taste is removed. Acons are great to make coffee with or use as a flavouring in bread or cakes.
Found in the small burrs that drop from tree in autumn. They are small, triangular, and edible, with a bitter taste. Found in pairs inside a cup with four prickly brown sides, they change from green to brown as they ripen. Roasting makes them easier to peel after which they are rubbed and sieved to get rid of the small hairs. After salting and drying, the beech nuts can be eaten whole or ground down to be added to bread dough. The oil obtained from beechnuts can be used for cooking and as a salad dressing.
Walnuts are rarely found in the UK these days, but you will find pockets of walnut trees in more rural areas. Walnuts are ready to be picked in late autumn, and are wet, when fresh. Unlike hazelnuts, walnuts require shelling before they are dried, although you can also eat them when wet, as an unusual delicacy.