Foraging Friday: Beech Mast

The unsung treasure of our beech forests in late summer, Beech Nuts (or “mast”) have never really made it as a popular nut for foragers. People are put off by the fiddly smallness of the nuts and the chore of peeling them, as well as the unreliability of the harvest. In some years the nuts are fat and worthwhile, but there are also years when the shells are empty. Beech trees, it seems, go through a three or four year cycle, culminating in bumper crops, but with a lot of disappointment in between.

European beech shoot with nuts
Image via Wikipedia

The nuts have a high yield of oil when pressed and this has been their main use in years gone by, however, as a wayside snack or to add interest and body to a salad it will only take a couple of minutes to gather enough. My preference is to take them home and shell them and gently roast in the oven. The taste is much like a filbert with a little of the bitterness of an acorn.

Beech mast can be gathered in late summer, early autumn and have been falling for a couple of weeks already in my locality. Look on the ground for little shiny brown nuts about 1.5cm long with a triangular cross section. In a good year you will be competing with the squirrels for these but don’t go overboard, they probably need them more than you for the winter.

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