Yesterday brought the second morning in a row of that new fall moment – the moment of the first frost warning. In this weird new era, the first frost warning has almost as much impact as the first frost, but not quite (no frost so far). It was cool on Cricket Hill at 6:20 a.m. and as we walked into the woods there was that sound of fall happening, beechnuts falling from way up high in the trees. It’s a plink… plink …. Plink-plink… plink… plink-plink-plink … plink all around you. Drives Suzy and Petey a little wacky (nuts?) and it happens when the temperature gets to a certain low point in the early fall.
All the beech trees in these woods are not coincidental with the high bear population – the bears enjoy the beechnuts mightily, evidently. “Beech trees are one of the largest producers of nuts in a hardwood forest but they only bear fruit in the autumn and this is when bears gorge on them to build up fat reserves before hibernating for the winter.” http://sectionhiker.com/2009/05/21/black-bear-territorial-displays/
“The fruit of the beech, also called "Beechnuts" and "mast", are found in the small burrs that drop from tree in autumn. They are small and triangular, are edible, have a sweet taste and are highly nutritious. (~ 20% protein and also ~ 20% oil content). Traditionally beech woods were highly valued in western Europe for the grazing of pigs, which fed on fallen beech mast. However, they do contain organic substances which are slightly toxic (it has been reported that eating approx. 50 nuts may make you ill) so that they should not be eaten in larger quantities.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beech accessed 8/30/09
I, for one, have no plans to eat them in quantities larger than 50.
Here are the remains of the outer casings after someone has eaten the nuts.
One of the interesting things about the beeches on this hill is that the leaves stay on the trees over the winter, drying up and bleaching out but not falling. They don’t fall until the new growth begins in the spring.
Beech-Nut could also be interesting (at least to those of us over what? 40? 50?) as a memorable trade name. Turns out that the name has had a kinda “loose” corporate history over the centuries, starting out 1890 as the Beech-Nut Packing Company on the Mohawk River in Canajoharie, New York, marketing the home-smoked hams perfected by one of the dads of the original five young partners. (Was there beech wood in the fire used in the smoking? Did the lucky porkers feast on the nuts?) At any rate, the name got passed around to quite the who’s-who of the corporate world over the decades -- Life Savers Corp, Squibb, Nestle, Ralston-Purina, Milnot, Hero.
The gum arrived well after the meats so it’s unlikely chewing on the nuts was part of the gum’s history (only the pigs’). After passing through corporate purgatory with the apple juice scandal (hmmm maybe it really wasn’t apple juice after all…) of the 1980’s, it has now recast itself as a producer of ‘better’ baby food. Definitely no nuts in that.