N. Ray Maxie
Country Kids Love'em
anyone know what a chinkapin is? I’m sure a lot of people don’t know.
burley little nut actually resembles a small chestnut, and rightly so, it is of
the chestnut family. The special little chinkapin is a small bur covered nut about
3/4 to 1˝ inches in diameter. The bur will split open when it is mature. Burs
most often grow in clusters on stems and each bur contains one nut. It is a shinny
dark brown, soft shell nut and is edible. The chinkapin has a nice sweet flavor
when mature in September. The nuts should be promptly harvested since birds and
wildlife will beat you to them and soon strip the entire tree.
says, a horticulturist once remarked, "the Allegheny chinkapin makes your mouth
water but to see it makes your eyes water." I agree with both accounts, since
it is a pretty and real tasty little nut. They also say, “the tree is well worthy
of cultivation as an ornamental shade tree, even if we discount its rapid growth,
productiveness, and delicious little nuts, which will be very acceptable for home
use. It may well be our most ignored and undervalued native North American nut
tree and can be used to rehabilitate disturbed sites and adapts well to harsh
conditions. It can grow to 15 to 20 feet tall as a bush, or 30 to 40 feet as a
single trunk tree.”
the years of my youth growing up in the Ark-La-Tex
area of NE Texas, I only knew of one chinkapin tree in my vicinity. And it was
a good one! On an oil lease where my dad worked, the tree was a long distance
down a private sand road. It was 1/4 mile off the county road between Rambo
and McLeod on the Tyson Oil Lease.
Going far past the tank battery to the end of the road where the actual oil well
was pumping, that rare tree (or bush) grew about 100 feet from the well. (See
my other story here, “Riding the Walking
For several years during the 1940's and ‘50's as the weather
was changing from hot summer to autumn all over the E
Texas pinewoods, on weekends I accompanied my dad on his rounds. When the
nuts were right, I gathered chinkapins while dad worked on the oil well. On a
good visit dad and I might harvest a quart of nuts off the ground and from the
burs popped open on the tree. In doing so, we were very careful of the sticky
burs. Plucking a nut from the open bur could result in a painful finger prick
if we weren’t very careful.
And the nuts fallen to the ground were there
just to be picked up. They lay among many empty burs. For a barefoot kid, burs
on the ground presented a much different hazard. I will never forget once carelessly
stepping on a bur. It was oh, oh so painful! Long afterwards I wished I hadn’t.
It required my dad’s “surgical” removal. From that day forward, I always wore
a pair of old shoes, or scooted my bare feet very carefully in the sand to try
and avoid the burs. But, once my dad found some old boards to throw under the
tree for me to walk on.
Along about the 5th, 6th and 7th grades, some
of my buddies and I would frequently carry a pocketful of chinkapins to school
to munch on. And believe it or not, after cracking open the soft shell in their
mouth and removing the tasty cornel with their teeth, they would spit the dark
brown shell out on the floor. Right there in the English classroom!
the audacity of them! How ill-mannered can you get? That was trashy and inconsiderate!
Don’t you think so? I suppose they were just making themselves at home. Occasionally
a girl would say, “Ms. Green, Johnny is spitting brown husk on the floor.” The
teacher would then require Johnny to clean it up. Me, of course, I used my shirt
pocket to contain my empty shells until recess.
Now you know what a chinkapin
is. Do you know what a bois d’arc ball is? Have you ever seen a ‘coon tail waving
on a car radio aerial? Can you tell me what a “blue moon” really is? Or did you
ever drink sassafras tea, or eat poke
This is just a small glimpse of a country kid growing up in
NE Texas. An upbringing I’ll always
cherish. We were laid back and had fun! Most of the time.
August 1, 2009 Column
Texas Historic Trees
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