(to the tune of Rain Drops Keep Falling On My head)
My heart was sinking as I shuffled through the brown dry husks under the 40 foot (12 m) spread Chinese chestnut tree. Not a chestnut to be seen, I had come too late. I didn’t have too much time to lament as here came a security guard on a golf cart checking me out.
I had gone into Wheeling a couple of hours before a doctor’s appointment to get blood work done so the results would be ready for the doctor and had some time to fill. Near the hospital was the grounds of what used to a Catholic school for girls for over 100 years, Mt DeChantal, now closed. On the grounds are several grand old Chinese chestnuts I have gathered nuts from in the past so I decided to go check it out, September being the time they start to fall.
I look forward to this time of year as I relish the chestnuts. The ones you buy in the market are imported from Europe and and are inferior in quality to what the Chinese chestnuts produce, but I never see the local ones sold other than occasionally at a farmer’s market, so gathering them myself is essential if I want to have them.
There is something about roast chestnuts that when you eat them your body almost shouts, “This is good nutritious food!” so thinking I had missed the season was a real downer.
After the school closed a corporate entity bought the grounds so I had had to drive past No Trespassing signs to get to the trees. It is moot to think what I would have done had there been nuts to gather but the guard was polite and I explained why I was there and left without incident.
I went over to Wheeling Park where there are also a couple of trees, but same situation, though I did find 6 nuts still left on the ground. Deer, squirrels, turkeys and other critters eat chestnuts so they don’t stay on the ground for long once they drop.
We have been planting chestnuts here in New Vrindaban but they are years from yielding so foraging away from campus is still my best option, plus there is less critter competition in urban environments then in the country.
My wife was going swimming in Moundsville that afternoon so I rode along with her on the long shot some trees down there on the old prison grounds were still happening.
I pulled up and parked next to them and with cautious optimism got out to look and was rewarded by an abundance of nuts laying in the ground. As a matter of fact, I had parked under one tree and as I was gathering nuts occasionally one could be heard bouncing off the roof of the car.
Apparently there is a variation on ripening times amongst trees. On those trees a lot of the husks are still hanging on the trees, many nuts having been released and dropped already, and still in the process of dropping more. This made it easier to gather them as the more crowded the ground with husks, the harder it is to use my nut pickerupper.
When I got home I checked out a chestnut tree at Bahulaban and they were still tight husked and hadn’t dropped any nuts yet, so my initial fear that I had misjudged the season was mainly unfounded.
Dinner was roast chestnuts, green beans from the garden, with sweet corn from the Farmer’s market. The butter on the sweet corn was bought at the Amish auction, hand made, local and full of flavor lacking in store bought butter. I felt like I was living large.