Saturday, September 08, 2007

European Beech

I will make all my readers wait with anxiously-held breath for part two of the Prunus revelations. Maybe I'll finish that up tomorrow. In the meantime...

Theressa and I went foraging today. We planned to gather acorns from various Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana) trees around town, since supposedly the acorns from these trees contain relatively few of the tannins which make the acorns taste bitter, meaning we need to put less time and effort into leaching the acorns to make them palatable.

However, we did not find any acorns under any of the 20+ Oregon white oaks we visited, which suggests that either the species did not have a good year this year (oaks in general have heavy mast years every few years, with intervening years seeing little if any yield) or we came too early to get a crop. We found gnawed, empty shells under a few of the trees, so at least a few acorns existed before the squirrels got to them! We can't see well enough and/or have not developed the pattern recognition skills to tell whether any acorns remain waiting to mature and drop from the branches above.

We did find plenty of acorns under a red oak of some sort, and collected a few pounds of those. We visited that oak before the bulk of the Oregon white oaks, so didn't want to load ourselves up with "inferior" acorns and not have room for the good ones. But it looks as if we may just have to content ourselves with red oak acorns, of which we should be able to easily gather hundreds of pounds just from the nearby neighborhood.

We also found a European beech! (Fagus sylvatica) It took us a few minutes to identify it; once we did, I climbed the tree and shook all the branches, causing a nutstorm below. Theressa took shelter, and once the storm passed we spent maybe an hour gathering as many as we could find in the grass. We decided we need to make a sheet or tarp standard foraging equipment, since spreading a sheet and shaking nuts onto it would allow us to gather nuts much faster than having to pick them up one by one.

The raw beech nuts remind us of large sunflower seeds, or raw pumpkin seeds. The relevant issue of Agroforestry News suggests not eating seeds raw due to their oxalic acid content, but Plants for a Future states no such concerns. We ate a few raw and they tasted just fine; in the future we may roast them lightly as suggested in Agroforestry News in case that does help with issues of toxicity, and because we suspect it will pre-crack the thin shell on the nuts, making it easier for us to get the nuts out.

I hope to weigh a batch of beech nuts pre- and post-shelling, to get some numbers on what percentage of the nut is shell vs kernel. Other than that, Theressa and I plan to enjoy eating them, and probably to seek out some more trees for harvest!

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