by Terrylynn Brant
The cold weather often means no fresh food till spring, but if we did our gathering last fall it can mean an abundance of fresh food today.
Recently Sam Bosco, Cornell Graduate Student and Vince Schiffert, Tuscarora Nation Naturalist. held, “Awę?reh- Nuts: Processing, Preparing, and Story Sharing” at the Tuscarora Nation Building in Lewiston ,NY to teach locals about the benefits of nuts.
The chestnut, acorn, walnut and hickory trees were used widly through out Haudenosaunee territories as building materials and food. Today as we turn our minds towards revitilizing and decolonizing our diets, workshops which combine the knowledge of western trained experts and traditional indigenous knowledge holders are becoming more important. The combination is helping us find our way through climate change and food related illnesses.
Walnuts have 21 species and two are found in the Haudenosaunee terriories, the Black Walnut and the Butternut. The Black Walnut is generally grown for timber but the nuts can be eaten. They were tapped for their sap and traditionally it was used as a medicine to ward off parasites in the body and cancer. Like many indigenous peoples around the world, the Haudenosaunee were considered intentional planters of the Black Walnut as its natural range occurs in patches where historic Haudenosaunee settlements occurred.
Black Walnuts are 24% protein and 80% of its fats are heart healty omega 3 & 6 which lowers cholesterol levels. They help in our fight against heart dieases, diabetes, cancers and neurodegenerative diseases.
The Butternut is unique in its solitary growing habit. If you see it, you generally will only see one growning by itself. Today it is important to collect and replant its seeds as it has a fungus and is on the endangered species list in Canada.
The American Chestnut once covered 25-50% of the eastern forests before a blight started in the 1800’s nearly eradicating it. It is a rot resistent wood and was widely used.
Every chestnut tree can yeild 6,000 nuts and it is a consistent producer. They can be eaten raw with little effort. Chestnuts are mostly starch, contains 10% protein and many nutrients. Fresh chestnuts are eaten by boiling or roasting until soft about 20-30 mins. The dried ones can be kept all year and soaked overnight then boiled. Fresh ones can dry out and mold if it is too moist.
The earliest evidence of acorn nut eating in NY state were roasting beds 50’ long and 10’ wide and 3’ deep found near Tyrone NY, dating back to 3500 BCE. Acorns are a high source of starch and tannic acid. The acid makes them taste bitter.
Acorns are collected in the fall, sorted for insect damage or broken/rotted ones. Traditionally acorns were stored in baskets and hung in the rafters of longhouses to dry. The bitterness in acorns is removed by boiling and changing the water up to 16 times. Hard wood ashes were also used to clear out the tannins. Chestnuts and acorns can be used interchangably in recipes.
Pecan is the only hickory that is comerically grown today and others were prized for their wood, used in building materials, tool handles, hunting bows and lacrosse sticks.
The Pignut, Mockernut and Bitternut have thin husks. Shagbark and Shellbark have thick husks. The various species can be hard to identify as they do hybridize. The Bitternut is the only inedible species but is easily identified by is slightly flattened shaped nut with a point at one end. It does produce a delicious oil as the tannis are water soluble and easily separated. Hickory nuts have a great flavour and offer many nutrients.
Hickories are used in salads, cereals and on desserts. The Haudenosaunee use the nut as teas/ milk/broth. They would smash the nuts and simmer it in water. The nut meat and liquid are eaten as a mush and the liquid alone can be drank as a tea.