Hazelnuts (a reminiscence)

Come August, as kids in Wawa we would head up the hill back of Wawa creek to a flat spot below an outcrop, and there we would check on our special patch of hazelnut shrubs. We would follow the development of the nut clusters beneath the leaves, watchful as summer waned for the telltale blotches of rust on the leaves, and same on the green nut sheaths. We would sometimes watch the birds, as we were told by our elders that they too would be watching for when the nuts might be ready to fall. But we wanted to get ahead of the birds, so would pick the spiney green husks before they dropped and would be either hard to find midst the ground cover, or lost to the birds or chipmunk and chitamo.

For equipment we used old galvanized pails and hockey sticks; pails to put the clusters or singles we’d twisted off the shrub, and sticks to hook and pull down the higher branches beyond our reach. We didn’t mind the fuzzy hands that resulted from picking gloveless, and the prickly fingers somehow became a point of pride. We needed at least one pail that didn’t leak, which we filled with water from Anderson Lake, and therein we’d drop our nuts to test for floaters – empty shells – which we discarded.  When finished collecting we headed to the shore of the lake where we had a fire pit. There we brought to boil an old pot we had stashed in the bush and dumped our nuts into the roil. We thought by doing so the husks would come easier away from the nut. Whatever the case, this worked, and we soon had sheathless nuts that just needed our patience to set them to dry on salvaged window screen for about three to four weeks. Frequently, though, our patience failed before we got them home, as we couldn’t help but try and crack a few nuts open and toss them into the frying pan (from our secret bush scullery) for toasting. While one might be working at busting open the nutshells, another of our party would be fishing for perch, and in no time we were sitting around our fire and pans and nuts and fish – shore lunch!

Michael Nelson - April, 2014