NOTE: Bay nuts must be properly roasted to be edible to humans. In spite of our best efforts to the contrary, we still commonly encounter people who are not roasting their bay nuts properly. Most commonly, the nuts are not dried before roasting. The second most common problem is roasting too cool. The toxicity of unroasted bay nuts is unknown, but they are probably not good for you. A tickling irritation in the back of the throat, almost like a burning sensation, is indicative of inadequate roasting. Please read and follow directions.)
Bay nut season is starting here in Northern California and it appears to be a good year. They should be raining down from trees up and down the coast for the next month or more. The season varies year to year. Sometimes it will extend into late November or even later. Ripening times also vary among individual trees with some dropping early and some later on. Here are some tips to increase your success and enjoyment with baynuts this year and for years to come! See this article on the Paleotechnics website for a more in-depth treatment of bay nuts and Bay trees.
*Harvest the nuts in a timely fashion. You don’t want them to either mold, or to start undergoing the physiological changes that happen when they begin sprouting. It’s best to harvest the nuts before the husks are very dried or very rotten. It is easiest to husk them when the outer coating is soft, but not mushy. They are ripe when they begin to drop naturally from the tree. If the husks are too firm and difficult to remove, let them sit around and ripen for a day or three.
* don’t put off Husking the nuts: When they are soft enough, husk them.
* Rinse the nuts in several changes of water briefly before drying.
* Dry soon after harvesting. The nuts are easy to dry and may do fine in a warm well ventilated room. If possible though, keep them near a heat source like a heater or woodstove. If the sun is out, put them on the dash board of a car with the windows just cracked or simply out in the sun on trays during the day, bringing them in at night. When fully dry, the nut inside the shell will be somewhat hard and brittle, not rubbery or flexible.
* Store dry nuts in the shells.
* Always dry the nuts before roasting! Roasting the green nuts is a common mistake, it doesn’t work.
* Roast the nuts in the shells. They can be roasted out of the shell, but our experience is that they roast more evenly in the shell.
* Roast quickly, stirring often: Roast at 425 to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir the nuts every 2 to 3 minutes without fail for about 20 minutes so that they roast evenly. Set a timer so that you don’t forget. If the oven heat is at all uneven, as many ovens are, turn the pan 180 degrees a few times during roasting. (Edit: We’ve been using a popcorn popper to roast lately. Seems to be working very well. See this post.)
* Don’t roast more than you can use soon, and keep the roasted nuts sealed in a small jar or a plastic bag until consumed. They go stale quickly and are best eaten immediately after roasting when they are at their tastiest. Traditional use seems to have been mostly roasted in hot ashes around the fire for fairly immediate consumption.
* Roast them how you like them. As long as they are roasted enough to get rid of the strongly flavored volatile oils that tickle and irritate the throat, you can roast the nuts as dark or light as you like. The color can range from a light brown (the color of coffee with a little cream) to very dark brown. Take some nuts out early and leave others in the oven a little longer to figure out what your preference is.
* Don’t eat too many at once! while tolerance varies, bay nuts do contain a stimulant and can totally wig some people out!
A few additional points:
* Bay nuts are one of the few foods that are high in the rare fat lauric acid, also found in coconut oil and ascribed numerous health benefits.
* The flesh of bay nut husks are edible when ripe. The upper (stem) end of the nut is the best part. The flesh is similar to avocado, to which they are related. It is more of a nibble than a significant food though.
* The fat in bay nuts is very stable being almost completely saturated, so the un-roasted nuts can keep for years.
* Roasted bay nuts make awesome bait for trapping mice and packrats, who can smell them from a long way off and seem to find them irresistible.
Related post: Roasting Bay Nuts in a Popcorn Popper