Going after nature’s mast crop: Acorns, walnuts, hazelnuts not just for wildlife

It can be a long, tough journey from a hickory nut tree’s drupe to a cookie, cake, or pie filled with the fruit’s meat. Are deer hunters up to the task? (Photo by Jerry Davis)

There is nothing wrong with checking an oak’s acorns, a walnut or hickory tree’s drupes, or hazelnut shrub’s wild crop. After all, we are simply looking in a deer’s kitchen or a squirrel’s cupboard and planning a different type of hunting trip. This one more gathering than hunting.

Why not claim our own cookie additives or hickory nut pie topping? We eat nuts, too, and usually lots of them.

Gathering these fruits from trees and shrubs, particularly the hard-core ones that can be stored in a jar on a pantry shelf, are expensive to purchase, but nearly free to forage.

Picking those fruits (commonly called nuts, but botanists have fancier terms) used to be family stuff. Then it was a Sunday afternoon outing or Labor Day party. After that, they became idle time fillers for the old guys who gathered, cracked, sorted, and picked out the meats.

It’s interesting that these fruits’ innards are called meats. That suggests proteins, which are exactly what many are loaded with by the time they hit our digestive systems.

Don’t write off gathering nuts as entirely kids’ stuff. There is as much to learn and tricks to comprehend as with squirrel or deer hunting. Gatherers have to learn the best habitat, identify the species, deal with removing a nut’s hide – cracking the safe to find the goodies and prying the pieces out one bite at a time.

Don’t underestimate the knowledge an old or experienced picker has in that noggin or noddle on those shoulders. It didn’t come easy. It was from the old school of hard knocks.

But just maybe most of us are not crafty enough to outsmart a walnut’s drupe. Start with the easy stuff, like fall turkey hunting or taking a few steaks from a deer using a crossbow.

As we become more woods-savvy, get an advanced degree in hunting and gathering and nutting won’t sound quite so impenetrable.

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