Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ampthill Park

‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping at your nose.’

I’ve always wanted to forage for Chestnuts and do something creative with them, so when I went for a walk over Ampthill Park first thing this morning, I made sure that I took a bag with me to collect some of the burgeoning harvest.

There are Sweet Chestnut trees all over the Park, but the one with the biggest specimens that I could find was situated almost on the very crest of the Greensand Ridge. It’s the tree in the photo above, to the left of the Beech tree. I wonder if its position results in more sunshine and warmth, assisting in the development of the nuts. In the distant past Sweet Chestnut trees originated from Greece, but the Romans were very fond of them and planted them for their food value all over the Empire. The nuts are different from the norm in that they are a rich source of carbohydrate, rather than protein.

I might try making some into soup, if these are big enough and suitable…..but what I really want to do is roast them in our wood-burning stove one romantic evening in the winter…watch this space!

I’m pretty confident that this Chestnut had been dealt with by a Woodpecker or, maybe, a Nuthatch, jammed into a crevice in the deeply-fissured bark and emptied of its core before falling to the ground.

And this is my haul. I could easily have filled several bags….and I could easily have been hurt: a number of the spikey 'hedgehog' cases plummeted to the ground even as I searched around under the canopy. One group just missed my head and hit the ground with a thump as I bent over to pick up a good-sized Chestnut…this particular form of foraging really isn’t for the faint-hearted!

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