Each morning on the way to the barn we walk under the hanging limbs of the great beech tree that stands by the corner of our house. Names and dates carved long ago on the smooth, gray trunk are dark and distorted, barely legible. The tremendous number of beechnuts that grow on a tree this size can feed a lot of squirrels. Thousands of seeds ripen and drop in autumn, carrying the life force into the future. They also fill the rain gutters of our house.
Two nuts sit nicely in their small burred shell, spit open on one end. It’s easy enough to pry the shell open with your fingernail and see the three-sided green nuts, slowly ripening as autumn approaches. Now in early September they taste quite bitter, but, when ripe, they acquire a nutty taste. According to a Wikipedia article, “Beechnuts have a high enough fat content that they can be pressed for edible oil.” (Ever hear of beech leaf noyau? Neither had I. Think gin liqueur).
Beech trees don’t begin producing seeds until they are around forty years old, and they really gather steam for nut production in their sixties. Here in the Piedmont region of Virginia, beech trees are abundant. A towering beech tree is a powerful presence; I enjoy being around them.
An interesting and informative article about all things “beech” appears at Eat the Weeds website: “Beech-American,” by Deane.
More fun if you are a Beech Nut: “How the Chewing Gum saved Baby Food and Possibly the Ham” at truetreatscandy.com.