Edible wild nuts include beechnuts, acorns, hazelnuts, walnuts and sweet chestnuts. Sweet chestnuts, which are abundant everywhere chestnuts grow, are easy to gather from the ground in autumn. Hazelnuts are less plentiful because squirrels and jays gather them quickly when they are at their best.
Mature nuts usually fall by themselves; if necessary, gently shake the tree or bush. Gather no more than you need - leave some for the wild animals.
Wear strong boots to crush chestnut husks underfoot and split them, and wear thick gloves to protect your hands from the prickles when extracting the nuts from the husks.
Dry nuts for about 21 days in a shady place, safe from animals. To prolong the life of dried nuts, store them in a covered container in the freezer, or for short-term storage, keep them in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Nuts in the shell keep longer than shelled ones.
Nuts will crack more easily and won't break up as much if you heat them in a covered glass dish of water in a microwave oven for 2 minutes. Drain, cool and then crack open.
Acorns are very bitter and are really only edible after leaching. Crack them open and dry the kernels thoroughly. Boil them in water for 2 hours. Let them soak for 3 or 4 days, with occasional changes of water. Then roast them.
Roast chestnuts in an oven - first slitting the skins so that they don't explode when ready - or cook them on a shovel over a fire. Serve the cooked nuts as a vegetable, with brussels sprouts and sage, or as a dessert, pureed and sweetened, with cream and meringues.
To remove the skins from nuts such as almonds and pistachios, place the nuts in a saucepan with water, bring to the boil, then drain and remove the skins. Rub off the skin with your fingers while the nuts are still warm.
Roast shelled hazelnuts in the oven, or toast them under the grill, turning regularly to loosen the skins-these can then be rubbed off in a teatowel.
Sprinkle flaked almonds with water, then coat them with icing sugar. Roast them in a warm oven until golden brown to make a delicious ice cream topping.