October 31st, 1929
FROM THE ARCHIVES:Halloween got Quidnunc thinking about nuts in this Irishman’s Diary from 1929.
The season of barm-brack, fruit and nuts is with us, and the emphasis is upon the nuts. In the various country areas during the last few days, the woods were alive with boys and girls stripping the hazel.
I cannot find any satisfactory reason why the feats of All Hallows should be especially associated with the nut. A friend of mine, however, who is an authority on folk-lore suggests that the nut is symbolic of creation, and compares the myth which derives the world we live in from the egg.
That is a Nordic story, and our customs, deriving as they do from a number of diverse sources, may well have taken that idea.
In the Hellenic feast celebrated at Athens, and known as the feast of the All-Fathers – the Apatoria – the nut was used for its richness in oil and as an ingredient of the special cakes made on that day, and supposed to be shared alike by the living and their departed ancestors; it is probable that the practice we use comes more directly from that.
The hazel is, perhaps, the more general favourite; but for rich flavour and succulence the Brazil takes the palm, and well repays the trouble involved in breaking its hard husk. The walnut has collected about its skiff-like shell an interesting rite. Who would know if prosperity or its reverse will be his lot in the immediate future, with a splint and a little wax and paper makes of a half shell a tiny boat which he releases in a rill.
If the shell is seaworthy all will be well.
The chestnut plays a part all its own among the nuts. The horse- chestnut is being everywhere tested as a warrior in the age-old game of “conker.” Suspended to a a piece of cord one nut is attacked with another similarly appended to a string. One by one the victims succumb in fragments. If your hero of a dozen fights beat the victor of eight, then he is worth twenty, and so on.
Some “conkers” have reached the five hundred mark; and when I was at school one of my friends held a “conker” through two years of campaigning invincible. He seasoned it carefully in oil.
The edible nut, roast without puncture, will tell matrimonial futures by the direction in which it leaps as it bursts. He is the most social of the race, and I well remember winters when one came across, in the by-streets, old crones seated beside glowing braziers who would exchange your twopence for a bag of roast nuts. You could run off home with them if you would; but more often you stood by the welcome warmth of the coals and swapped stories with other youngsters about your prowess with fists or the “conker”.
I remember an old sailor who kept a brazier and gratefully shivered his timbers and our hearts with blood-curdling tales of pirates and dhows and junks, till we ran through the shadowy streets for the safety of home. I wonder if those old stoves of romance have all been quenched in these scientific days?