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Monday, October 22, 2007

Nuts, Squirrels & Nutcrackers

Without as smooth as glass
Within a wooly mass
But hid amid the wool
There lurks a nice mouthful.

Edible nuts have been an important part of the human diet for thousands of years. Nutritionally they are high in protein and offer an assortment of vitamins and minerals. The botanical definition of a nut is actually quite strict; a nut must have a woody or stony outer wall, and the seed inside is free or partially fused. In cuisine, however, the term “nut” is much more broad, encompassing legumes like peanuts, almonds, pine nuts and sunflower seeds. Almonds, pistachios, coconuts, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, pine nuts, chestnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, beechnuts, and butternuts are all considered edible nuts, whether or not they are true nuts.

Excavations of early civilizations have revealed nutshells that were probably broken by stones when they were too hard for the teeth to crack. Pitted stones used for cracking nuts have been found in various parts of the United States and Europe and have been dated back to the Archaic Period, 4,000 to 8,000 years ago. source

The Greek Aristotle is most probably the inventor of the nutcracker, a pincer-like tool with two levers...The German author Jacob Grimm (1785-1865) described nutcrackers as idols that are made to exercise evil spirits. source

Henry Quackenbush is credited with inventing the first American nutcracker and nutpick in 1878. source

Foraging

  1. Every squirrel carries an umbrella. The squirrel puts it up to stay dry when eating nuts in the rain or snow. The umbrella is its big, bushy tail.
  2. The average Gray squirrel is fifteen inches long and weighs about one pound. Its diet consists of nuts, seeds and fruit.
  3. Gray and Fox squirrels hide their food in many places, so if another squirrel or animal were to find it, the entire year's supply would not be lost. Sometimes they hide food temporarily, until they can move it to a more convenient location.
  4. Squirrels stash nuts in hollow trees and under fallen leaves. Gray and fox squirrels spend a lot of time digging holes and burying single nuts and acorns in the ground. Squirrels don't locate buried food from memory. They find buried food (about half an inch deep) with the use of their highly developed sense of smell. During the winter they sniff out the acorns and dig them up to eat. Naturalists have seen squirrels dig through a foot of snow to find a cache of nuts. Of course, the squirrels miss some nuts, and in this way they help plant the next forest.
  5. Squirrels need calcium in their diet. Calcium is a mineral necessary for the squirrels to keep healthy teeth to be able to bite into an acorn. Without strong teeth, they can starve to death.

National Nut Day @ Slashfood.com