NOTE: Ginkgo fruits contain urushiol, an organic compound that often causes allergic reactions (it’s what makes people react to poison ivy). Make sure you wear gloves while processing the fruits.
The fruits can be picked off the tree or off the ground when they’re ripe and orange. You’ll smell them as they start to ripen, too! The easiest way to separate the fruit from the nut is to soak the fruits in water and then pull them apart (still with gloves on). Once the fruits and nuts are separated dry the nuts, and roast them until they turn green (400F, keeping an eye on them).
Of all the trees we’ll talk about today, Beech nuts are, by far, the easiest to process. They can be picked right off the tree and eaten or roasted. Beech trees don’t fruit consistently every year, so they can be a challenge to find. This year, we were lucky enough to have a whole stand in Wyman Park fruit and were able to harvest plenty. The fruit is ripe when it starts to split at the end, and you can see the two halves pull apart from each other. Once that happens you can break open the outer shell (you can do this by hand, you don’t need a nutcracker) and enjoy!
Acorns take a lot to process, but it can be done! Acorns were an important part of Native American’s diets and are nutrient rich. You can turn them into flour and make baked goods and breads, or roast them and use them like other types of nuts (walnuts, pecans etc). Acorns contain a lot of tannin, that needs to be leached before they can be eaten. The acorns can be leached in hot or cold water (though if you want to bake with them, be sure to leach them in cold water). You either soak the acorns or boil them, changing the water once it gets cloudy and do this until the tannin is gone (If you’re boiling the acorns, make sure to only add hot water back into the pot).
Chop the acorns finely, place in cheese cloth, and soak it in a bowl of water. Chopping the acorns finely makes the process go much quicker! Change the water every 20 minutes or so.
Quarter the acorns and boil. The skins will separate, so skim these off the top as they rise. Change the water ever 20 minutes or so. Make sure to heat the water before adding it to the acorns. Temperature changes can ruin the leaching process.
After the tannin is leached, dry the nuts slowly in the oven and use them or store them for later. Acorns should be stored in the refrigerator or they’ll go rancid because of their high fat content.
Walnuts are ready to be harvested once they’ve fallen to the ground. They should be harvested fairly soon after falling to avoid mold. Gather up as many as you want and get ready to de-hull them. If you have a small amount this can be done by hand. With a medium-large quantity, you will want to look into other ways of de-hulling. Some people run them over with a car until the hulls are removed. Once you’ve finished removing the hulls, you’ll need to rinse of any debris and then dry the walnuts. You can dry them by keeping them on screens in a warm sunny spot for several days. Once dried they will keep well for a year in the freezer.
When working with all of these trees (except Ginkgo) you should look out for weevils. In beechnuts and acorns you’ll see holes in the shell where the weevils have left. Sometimes, you’ll find weevils still inside the nuts. Since beechnuts are small, I’d recommend avoiding any that are damaged by weevils. Acorns are large enough that and damaged parts can be cut out. In walnuts, weevils live in the hulls and tend not to damage the nut itself. Weevils can reduce the production of a tree, but since you’re likely foraging, they aren’t a huge concern.