Country Diary: Delicious nut to tempt your tastebuds

Ripe sweet chestnuts burst from their husks.
Ripe sweet chestnuts burst from their husks.

There appears to have been a reduction in herring gulls lately! Hopefully some of Scarborough’s gull population have now moved inland, as we observed well over 100 in a grassy field beyond Johnson’s Pond. Also present was a solitary heron, several moorhen and wigeon. Wigeon are mainly winter visitors, readily picked out in flight by their conspicuous white wing bar.

Driving from Scarborough to Filey, we spotted once again a favourite shrub – the sea buckthorn. Its brown, thorny twigs and long, narrow silvery leaves make it easily recognised. Male and female flowers are produced on separate plants, and only the female bushes bear the bright orange berries, which are now a glorious sight.

Beside the driveway into Filey’s Country Park grew a small stand of teasels. Their large, spiny, conical heads look attractive even when dead. We sometimes used to spray them white, with a sprinkling of glitter as a Christmas decoration.

Also remaining to the end of October, were several bright blue, star-like flowers and contrasting black stamens. It occurs only rarely in the wild, and those we observed were possibly escapees. Beekeepers sometimes place their hives near a field of borage, for foraging worker bees.

Borage was once regarded as a kind of herbal pep-pill. It was renowned as an aphrodisiac and as a general dispeller of depression and melancholy. The dried leaves may be used in hot water as an inhalant, and then, failing this, it may be used as a drink to clear the head and help you feel exhilarated.

Taking a walk with Tigga, I wasn’t even thinking about bonfire night, when my attention was drawn to my feet!

We were walking along a bed of spherical green cases covered with long spines. Sweet chestnuts of course, and I’d overlooked their nut season in October. They’re ready just in time for celebrating bonfire night. Several tall, straight trees towered above us, with single, spear-shaped serrated leaves lying on the ground.

It’s certainly a harvest to get your hands into this year, and a nut to get your teeth into. Don’t confuse them with horse chestnuts, whose conkers look similar but are inedible.

Select your sweet chestnuts and open the husks. They may already have split by mid-November, so seek any nuts lying free amongst the leaves. The polished brown ripe nuts look most tempting. Eat some raw (with shell and pith removed), but roasting chestnuts outdoors, along with their smell is most alluring.

Slit the skins and place the nuts in hot ashes. Leave one uncut, and when this explodes, the others will be ready. Why not boil them with brussel sprouts for Christmas?

Chopped, stewed and baked with red cabbage produces a rich vegetable pudding.