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Earthnuts

EARTHNUTS or PIGNUTS (Conopodium Majus). Although these tasty tubers are beloved of pigs (hence the  name) they are a most unusual and rewarding woodland snack and there was a time when they were a popular nibble for country children on their way to and from school. Real hunter-gatherer food for free !

EARTHNUTS or PIGNUTS (Conopodium Majus)

leaves of pignut
Although these tasty tubers are beloved of pigs (hence the name) they are a most unusual and rewarding woodland snack and there was a time when they were a popular nibble for country children on their way to and from school.

The fern like leaves appear along with the Lesser Celandine in the spring. During May and July they develop umbellifer heads with white flowers not unlike Cow Parsley. According to Gerard and others the Dutch once ate them 'boiled and buttered, as we do parseneps and carrots'.

tracking down earthnut
found the pignut
Unearthing a pignut is a delicate operation. The root disconnects from the tuber very easily, which can be several inches from where the stem appears above ground.

Follow the stem under the earth using careful scraping with a twig, fingernail or knife. Eventually you will reach the pignut which is covered with a chestnut coloured skin. If you can wash the nut at this stage it avoids getting muddy fingernails while peeling. As soon as I found the one shown in the picture, an earthworm appeared and dived into the hole it left!

Scrape off the papery outer coating to reveal the Earthnut.

The older name for Earthnuts is 'Earth Chestnuts' and this gives you a clue to their taste - a chestnut texture but with a more earthy taste.

There's nothing like carefully digging one of these up during a walk in the woods. Do it with your fingernails. As the earthy taste hits the senses you are drawn more completely into contact with the nature around you. A true 'pomme de terre'.

Gerard's Herbal mentions that 'There is a Plaister made of the seeds hereof, whereof to write in this place were impertinent to our historie'....Probably witches doing something unacceptable again!

peeled pignut
Earthnuts get a mention in Shakespeare's 'Tempest', from Caliban as he promises:

CALIBAN
I'll show thee the best springs; I'll pluck thee berries;
I'll fish for thee and get thee wood enough.
A plague upon the tyrant that I serve!
I'll bear him no more sticks, but follow thee,
Thou wondrous man.

TRINCULO
A most ridiculous monster, to make a wonder of a Poor drunkard!

CALIBAN
I prithee, let me bring thee where crabs grow; And I with my long nails will dig thee pignuts; Show thee a jay's nest and instruct thee how To snare the nimble marmoset; I'll bring thee To clustering filberts and sometimes I'll get thee Young scamels from the rock. Wilt thou go with me?

The Tempest: Act 2, Scene 2

Presumably Caliban is talking about where crab apples grow, the wild - nature itself, a proper wild diet of apples, pignuts, jay's eggs, small monkeys, hazelnuts and baby seagulls.

Maybee R. Food for Free. Fontana. 1972
Phillips R. Wild Food. Peerage Books. 1983
Woodward M. Gerard's Herbal. Bracken Books. 1985 Edition

Article from: WildFood Wizard by Simon Mitchell

WildFood Wizard by Simon Mitchell


 

Posted Feb 2, 2006   
 
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