No apples. No hazelnuts.
Two tiny bunches of sorry-looking grapes. A dozen or so chestnuts from five trees. And a smattering of walnuts.
Spring’s weather was not conducive to a fall harvest.
As autumn’s coolness tinges the air and hues of yellow begin shading leaves, I look forward to long walks in the rural yard and forest in a search of freshly picked snacks.
An apple and handful of chestnuts make a nice, light lunch. Picked from the Red or Golden Delicious trees, there is no need to wash the fruit.
We use no pesticides or herbicides, so a quick rub on the T-shirt and the apple is ready to eat. It’s a taste of nature at its freshest moment.
One of my favorite treats is the hazelnut.
Although my house contains one or two nutcrackers, I still shell them on the front-porch stoop using a hammer or large rock. It’s the method my father taught me when I was a young tot, and one that brings calming reflection to my adult state of mind.
But, alas, I have no hazelnuts this fall. The year 2020 has indeed been unkind.
My fruitless foraging this weekend brings to mind memories of my most favorite autumn treat — the chinquapin.
For those unfamiliar, the chinquapin is like a smaller cousin of the chestnut. Its look and taste is similar, although it’s much more diminutive in size.
I haven’t had one in ages.
As a child, I remember my father bringing home the tiny nuts in small brown bags. Looking back, I assume the nuts were given to him by friends or, perhaps, he purchased them at roadside stands.
Whatever the case, eating chinquapins wasn’t easy. One could consume a nut in half a second while the shelling took several minutes. Dad and Grandpa would utilize razor-sharp pocketknives to remove the hard outer case. We kids just used our teeth.
But the sweet reward of biting into a chinquapin was worth the laborious effort of peeling away its outer shell.
I’ve only thought about chinquapins a few times in the last few decades.
The first occasion was in the early 1990s. At that time, I was Lifestyles editor here at the newspaper and had copy ready for print that made mention of chinquapins. I knew, in southern West Virginia, we pronounced them “chinkypens,” but I needed the proper spelling.
In those days, we used hardbound dictionaries instead of the internet to find correct spellings and definitions. But my phonetic spelling of the nut did not get me close enough to find help from my trusty friend Webster.
Finally, at wit’s end, I called my father, whose brain was like a pre-technology Google.
“How do you spell ‘chinkypen,’” I recall asking Dad in desperation, frustrated because my deadline was drawing near.
Dad didn’t hesitate.
“It’s French — chin-qua-pin,” he said, pronouncing the word phonetically before spelling it. With a hurried thanks I ended the call and prepared my pages for print.
That brief, 30-second phone call had lasting results. Like me, my father had not thought of chinquapins for years. But, spurred by my question, he began doing research and located a nursery that sold chinquapin bushes.
He immediately ordered several, for himself and his daughters. I planted mine with care, but it was destroyed several months later by rambunctious German shepherd puppies. I’m not sure what happened to those my sisters planted.
I never gave much more thought to the chinquapins until 2006, when the husband and I moved into the family “homeplace.” Mom died earlier that year, and Dad had passed away in 2000. While sorting through file cabinets filled with important papers I found a map of our family property. Carefully marked on the map of 70-some acres were several “Xs” — the sites Dad planted his chinquapin bushes.
I remember putting the map in a secure spot for safekeeping. Years later, I’ve yet to find it.
I will admit to silently cursing spring’s weather on my recent weekend jaunt.
No fruit. No nuts. No harvest bounty.
I appreciate our local grocers, but pristine nuts purchased in glass jars from supermarkets just don’t have the same taste as those plucked from a bush and shelled on the porch stoop.
Maybe, next year, the hazelnuts and chestnuts will return.
And, perhaps, one day in the future I will stumble upon the elusive chinquapin — in a camouflaged bush on mountain terrain or in a brown paper bag at a farmer’s market.
I can only hope.
— Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @BDTPerry.