Got Nuts? Check Your Back Yard

Here’s a fun, healthy, free and tasty way to cheer yourself up if the depressing news in the media has got you down lately.  Look for and collect nuts! ‘Tis the season. You can do it while you’re scoping neighborhoods.

Yeah, I’m serious. Tap into your hunter-gatherer genes. If you find a good tree, it’s better than an Easter egg hunt.  Why leave all the treats to the squirrels?


What kind of nuts? Chestnuts and walnuts, mainly.

Those spiky green balls you’ve seen rolling down sidewalks and parking lots are chestnuts (pictured above.) The thick green skin cracks open naturally to reveal two or three beautiful brown nuts – the kind you can roast. Just find the tree where they’re coming from and they’ll be lying on the ground waiting for you if no one has beaten you to it. Careful, the green spikes are quite sharp. 

Once you collect a nice big handful, roast them over the stove in a cast-iron skillet until they smell toasty. You’ll feel like you’re on the streets of Paris or Rome. The dark shell will crack slightly, and its OK if the outside blackens a bit. Crack them open and enjoy while warm.

You may also see bumpy, round, green balls that are about two inches across. These are walnuts.  If you crush the outside skin you’ll get to the walnut shell that we all recognize from the store. Inside that is the meat. It seems like a lot of work and I am not as familiar with how to handle them as with the chestnuts. I do know that fresh walnuts taste kind of sweet and are not at all like the bitter/older things my mother used to buy in bags for her baking. Maybe one of readers can give it a try and report back one day.

If you’re really lucky, you may find some fig or apple trees on public land too. I can think of a few in my own neighborhood but that’s a secret I won’t divulge!


  • summer

    where do you find the natural walnuts with the spiky shell on them??????

    please answer me back

  • allison

    Hi – the spiky-shelled nuts are chestnuts, not walnuts, and TRULY take heed of those little sharp spines. They hurt.

    Now, you want me to publicly divulge the source? Well, I think my neighbors would get more than a little upset about that. But I will tell you that I have found them walking in Upper NW DC and in a few parks in Bethesda, like Westmoreland Hills. They are native to this region however, so they have to be around in other areas too. I would bet there are some in Glover Park and maybe Rock Creek Park, although most of the big hardwood trees were in Rock Creek and some other hilly areas were cut down during the Civil War.