Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- CHESTNUTS

It's that time of year when special treats fall from the trees. I don't mean acorns. They may be a special treat for the squirrels, but not for people.

No, I mean treats like apples, walnuts, pecans, hickory nuts--and CHESTNUTS.

CHESTNUTS bring back fond memories of my childhood. They also bring back painful memories.

Have you ever harvested CHESTNUTS? Have you had a CHESTNUT tree growing in your yard?

CHESTNUTS roasting on an open fire
At least most of you know what a CHESTNUT is, right? I mean, if you've heard the song about CHESTNUTS roasting on an open fire, you have a general idea. Or CHESTNUT dressing for your Thanksgiving feast. When I lived in New York City, I loved smelling CHESTNUTS roasting at night by the street vendors.

Cooler weather means CHESTNUTS to me.

You may know what a CHESTNUT is, but do you know how they are harvested? I'll give you the low-down from my memories of childhood.

CHESTNUTS in a burr
As my friends and I walked home from school in the fall, we passed nearby a CHESTNUT tree. We could hardly wait for the seed pods (CHESTNUT BURS) to drop from the tree so we could gather them for a snack.

Walking under a CHESTNUT tree can be hazardous. CHESTNUT burrs are large, needle-spiked balls. If they hit you on the head, it hurts like crazy. Besides, the quills on the burrs feel like a porcupine dropped on your head--sharp end first.

Picking up CHESTNUTS
The CHESTNUT burrs that have already fallen on the ground are dangerous, too. Those quills will stick right through your shoes. Especially if you're still wearing flip-flops or sandals. Never mind what they'll do to your fingers when you attempt to remove the CHESTNUTS from them.

If you're fortunate enough to find a CHESTNUT tree that has dropped its nuts, look for the burrs that have already dried out and changed from bright green to brownish weapon color. Most should have popped open, exposing the CHESTNUTS inside, or dropped them on the ground as they fell. Most pods contain three CHESTNUTS.

Now, to eat your CHESTNUT! Some people warn you not to eat them raw or the tannin in them will cause gastric distress (tummy ache). I don't remember that ever happening to me or my friends. We gathered the CHESTNUTS and opened the tough skin much the same way the squirrels do--we used our teeth. It's a wonder we have any teeth left.

Roasted CHESTNUT meats
Inside the skin is a sweet, luscious nut that is more akin to a fruit than a nut. At least, it has a lot more carbohydrate than fat.

Some people, who gather more than a few CHESTNUTS, roast or boil their CHESTNUTS before eating them. The recommendation is to score an X into the skin of each nut before cooking. I think that would be much more dangerous to my fingers than the burrs themselves. The reason you should score them is that when they heat up they build up steam inside and will explode (like an egg in your microwave).

Sounds like fun to me.

No matter how you prepare your CHESTNUT, it's worth the effort.

Have you ever harvested CHESTNUTS? Ever been stuck by a CHESTNUT burr? Have a favorite way to eat them?

I'd love to hear your story.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- KATYDID

When you step outside at night, before the cold snap of fall, you hear all kinds of sounds coming from the more wooded areas around your home. Some of those sounds may be the chirping of crickets. You may also hear cicadas (jar fly), or even bullfrogs. But, the most common sound you hear is the KATYDID.

In England, they call the KATYDID a bush cricket.The KATYDID is related to a grasshopper, however, not a cricket.  In Appalachia, it is bright green and allows it to be camouflaged in the trees and bushes where it spends its time. 

One difference in the appearance of the KATYDID and a grasshopper is the length of its antennae. They are especially long. Also, some varieties of the KATYDID look much more leaf-like, thus allowing better camouflage.

Several varieties of KATYDID exist around the world. There's even a pink one. Another variety is about six inches long. Yikes. Some resemble the bark of a tree and some are just down-right scary and other-worldly.


Our smaller, bright green KATYDID, is generally calm and stands still when you approach it. That's probably because it thinks it is completely camouflaged and doesn't need to flee. Since it is a leaf-eater, you don't need to worry about the KATYDID trying to make a meal out of you.

I love to listen to the KATYDID at night--even if it does sound a bit like my tinnitus.

I've embedded an audio file of KATYDIDs here for you to listen. Click on the link below, when a blue box pops up, click on it, and it will take you to YouTube. 

Do you love the sounds of the night? What's your favorite night creature? With fall's lower temperatures upon us, there aren't many nights left to listen to the KATYDID. Walk outside tonight and tell us whether you were able to hear any singing their song near your house.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- SIGOGGLIN

Do you know what it means for something to be SIGOGGLIN?

Origins of the word seem to originate from the Irish/Scottish heritage brought to the mountains of Appalachia (Apple-AT-cha). It means anything that is crooked, off-skew, or just plain wrong.

One of the most famous examples of SIGOGGLIN is the leaning tower of Pisa, Italy. I couldn't understand how something so wrong could be so famous. Seems that SIGOGGLIN buildings are a rage now. Go figure.

There were many examples of SIGOGGLIN when I grew up in Harlan County. Most people couldn't afford to hire a professional to build or fix things for them, so they took their limited know-how and did it themselves.

Houses, fences, sheds, and your outside coal house could all make people wrinkle their noses, cock their heads, and say, "That's a bit SIGOGGLIN, ain't it?"

Of course, the mountain roads are all a bit SIGOGGLIN. I'll never forget traveling Laden Trail on Pine Mountain. That gravel road that wound around enough for you meet yourself going around a curve was a great example of a crooked SIGOGGLIN road.

I've met a lot of boys and men with SIGOGGLIN noses. They got that way from either meeting a fist nose on or from some crazy stunt where they ended up on the ground or against a wall nose first.

Ouch. That's gonna be a SIGOGGLIN nose
Back in grade school, our principal at Loyall made a point to tell us all NOT to slide on the icy streets at recess. My friend Jackie ignored the command. He left a fair share of blood on the ice as he slid down the street nose first.

The first time I tried to crochet, my project ended up SIGOGGLIN. I'm sure, with practice, I could have done better. But I gave up. My first cake ended up a bit SIGOGGLIN, too. Didn't affect the flavor, but it definitely looked a bit wrong.

Have you seen anything that's SIGOGGLIN?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- PERSIMMON

Every fall, my mother gave me the dire warning, "Don't eat a PERSIMMON before the first frost."

Of course, not heeding that warning would usually result in the PERSIMMON PUCKER.

That pucker was bad enough to make you never eat a PERSIMMON before its time ever again.

An unripe PERSIMMON has tannin in it. Tannin is the chemical that causes an astringent effect in your mouth. Tannin is bitter tasting and is what causes the skin inside your mouth to tighten -- making you pucker.

Basically, tannin can suck the moisture right out of you. It can feel like it's sucking the very life out of your body! Not a pleasant experience. Tannin is also what makes a dry wine dry. Fortunately, they don't use very much tannin in dry wine.

However, when the PERSIMMON is ripe, there is very little tannin left and the fruit is extremely sweet.

My mom's warning about the first frost, however, was a tad unreliable. Although it's true that PERSIMMON is generally ripe starting in October (the time of the first frost in the mountains of Kentucky), not all PERSIMMONS are ripe immediately.

A better gauge of when you can avoid the tannin PERSIMMON PUCKER is when the flesh of the fruit is soft to the touch. It should feel like there is jelly inside the skin of the PERSIMMON. It will also have skin that looks a bit wrinkly.

I always ate PERSIMMON right from the tree. I made sure I used extreme care to make sure it was ripe enough. I only took a slight nibble to test it and hoped for a sweet taste instead of a nasty pucker.

PERSIMMON is also used for other eating pleasures. Some use them to make cakes and beverages. My friend, Michelle Medlock Adams, an award-winning author, creates a PERSIMMON pudding that is drool-worthy. Here is a photo of her latest creation. I've also included her recipe (for those of you who give me a hard time when I don't include recipes for the yummy foods I highlight on this blog).

Photo courtesy of Michelle Medlock Adams 
Recipe courtesy of
Michelle Medlock Adams

PERSIMMONS have several other uses as well. The seeds are collected and sliced open each fall in an effort to predict the type of winter to expect. Inside the seed, you will either see a spoon, fork or knife. The spoon means there will be heavy snows (bad winter), the fork means the snows will be light, and the knife means it will be extremely cold.

PERSIMMON seeds are dark brown
The report is in and PERSIMMON seeds are displaying a SPOON this year. If you're in a snow-prone area, prepare for a snowy winter season.

The seeds can also be used for other purposes. If ground, a "tea" can be made. Interestingly, this tea was a coffee substitute for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. The juices from the seeds can also be used as a gargle for sore throats and a cure for things like warts, cancers, heartburn, diarrhea, and stomach aches.

Who knew how amazing the little PERSIMMON could be?

Have you eaten a PERSIMMON straight from the tree? Have you ever experienced the PERSIMMON PUCKER?

I'd love to hear your stories.