I am one who goes kicking and dragging into Fall, relishing each ‘last summer day’, locking into memory the long lingering evenings, warm days and early sunrise to last through the coming seasons. But the grandeur of autumn always ends up wooing me away; sweeping me up with its sheer beauty, fleeting as it is, and I soon forgive the implacable celestial order of things.
I have been reveling in the abundance of the season- the fall harvests are so rich, decadent even, the golden honey thick from the hive; truffles and mushrooms in the forest duff; and the nuts, I love the acorns, walnuts, hazelnuts and best of all the sweet chestnuts that ripen and fall to earth as the days shorten. Like the squirrels I am carefully storing them away for the months to come, to nourish and heal, and to add pleasure during the stormy days of winter.
This fall I’ve made it a goal to learn some new mushrooms, we have such an abundance here and they are so beautiful. I finally joined the Puget Sound Mycological Society, and have gone on one of their ‘mushroom harvest forays’ and attended their amazing mushroom show in October. This year I’ve added a Zeller’s Bolete and Matsutake to my list of edible mushrooms I am able to safely identify for harvest. I’m also on the hunt for dye mushrooms as well as edible and medicinal, and hope to offer a workshop in the spring on mushroom dyes with a local expert.
It was an abundant year for nuts from oak, walnut and chestnut, my favorites. Nuts are at the conceptual core of permaculture perma-nent agri-culture, a staple food that comes from naturalized perennial trees, requiring next to no care while providing an abundance of high protein, nutritious food. The book Tree Crops- A Permanent Agriculture written in 1919, was part of the inspiration behind this concept, using sweet chestnuts as an example of a staple food of the people on the Mediterranean island of Corsica.
Here in the Northwest we have access to an abundance of nuts if we keep our eyes open. I’ve seen walnuts laying on the ground, going to waste in urban areas where people seem not to realize these are the same as those we buy in the store. , the Eastern gray squirrel will eat virtually every walnut before it hits the ground if not managed.
Hazelnuts are one of our native trees, and their cousin the filbert is widely planted as well. Once you learn to identify hazelnuts by their soft, rounded and toothed leaves, and its clumping arching form, you’ll see them everywhere. Take a moment to peak under the boughs in summer where you are likely to find an abundance of sheathed nuts, though it is a race to beat the squirrels and jays to harvest.
Another one our natives, Garry Oak, is a beautiful tree, now mostly gone in our urban area, though there are some remnant stands at Seward and Martha Washington Park in Seattle, giving evidence to their past abundance here. They are still found south of Olympia and into Oregon, where they often set a heavy crop of huge nuts, lower in tannins and bitterness than most acorns, so much easier to process. I’ve learned that traditionally these nuts were stored in pits where the rain leached them, and some were so low in tannins they were simply dropped into soups and stews. We usually make an acorn meal pudding, sweetened with huckleberries and serviceberry (shown on the left).
See my blog ‘Amazing Nuts’ about nuts and their importance as a traditional food.
To learn more about Heidi Bohan and her work: http://www.heidibohan.com