Nature on our doorsteps: Autumn Chestnuts
The chestnut, or the conker, is one of the iconic fruits of autumn.
When it falls from the tree and splits from its spiky case, it looks beautifully fresh, shiny, and mahogany coloured.
The chestnut is the fruit of the Horse Chestnut, a tree which is native to Greece and Albania.
It was introduced to Britain (and hence to Ireland) in the 17th Century.
Many adults will have played ‘conkers’ as children. Chestnuts would have been collected and put in a warm place to dry out and harden.
A nut was then threaded onto strong twine and the competition was to see which nut was the ‘conqueror’ by smashing all other dangling chestnuts into pieces.
The high protein and fat content of the chestnut means that it is eagerly gathered by squirrels and mice.
While Horse Chestnuts are not suitable for us to eat, a different chestnut is, the Sweet Chestnut.
The Sweet Chestnut tree is also a native of southern Europe. Its nut cases are much more prickly than Horse Chestnut, and they contain up to four nuts which are pointed at one end.
Irish weather, however, is not hot enough to develop fat sweet chestnuts.
It is these tasty nuts that are referred to in the words of the Christmas song – ‘chestnuts roasting on an open fire’.