2 DEC 2020

We go nuts!

Hazelnut folklore and the Conker Cup

This episode we go nuts! Conkers and hazelnuts to be exact! Have you ever heard of Melch Dick, a forest guardian who punished children for picking unripe nuts? Or do you know why Ministry of Munitions asked school children to collect conkers during WW1? We also interview Conker Cup representative and host of Chestnut Chat, ‘Mr Conkers’, who tells us all about the exciting sport.

Melch Dick and other Hazelnut folktales

Hazel has a long history, the nuts have been used as an important source food for thousands of years and the branches for thatching spars, wattle, baskets and more. Due to this a wealth of folklore has grown around the plant and nuts.

Excavations of Mesolithic sites in Ireland dating back 10,000 years have shown the widespread consumption of Hazelnuts. This continued into the Neolithic as people began to settle down and farm.

Today many people only have Hazelnuts at Christmas time, part of a more modern tradition.

Melch Dick

A old Yorkshire folk tale tells the story of Melch Dick, a woodland fayefolk who protected unripe Hazelnuts from being picked by Children.

If discovered it’s lure them deep into the woods...

Further reading

The Conkers of WW1

Such was the need for munitions during WW1 that schoolchildren were tasked with collecting acorns and conkers.

Through a chemical process devised by Russian biochemist Chaim Weizmann key ingredients could be extracted from horse chestnuts for the production of explosives including nitroglycerin and cordite.

Whilst 3000 tons of conkers were collected the scheme had little success as the process was inefficient and many bags of conkers where left to rot at train stations. Still the kids had a fun time!


Wartime school poster

Further reading

Interview with Chestnut Chat

We are very excited to be joined by the host of Chestnut chat this episode. He answers our questions on how the game of Conkers is played, safety and the 2020 Conker Cup tournament. The Chestnut Chat podcast is hilarious so be sure to give it a listen.

Find out more


This transcript is automatically generated so may contain errors.

Welcome to the curiosity of a child.

Episode 23. We are back after a long break, aren't we? Yeah, normally released every two to three weeks, but I had my birthday so that was one weekend out and then due to age I managed to twinge my shoulder and I'm still recovering now. So we're back on me mate, Yep.

And last September in the kitchen. But this episode we are back in the studio, yeah?

And what we're going to talk about?

When you visit the supermarket this time of year, you always find lots not Sweeney. Yeah, and they are part of a winter tradition is. I remember when I was your age. Granted always have some nuts at Christmas time and they never got fully eaten. There will be sitting there and we never had them any other time of year either. Staying at Christmas, I think that's probably the same for a lot of people, but not just have always been a really important food source for people. As they ripen late in the winter they were a great winter food for Audi man and an easy stored for long periods as well.

In islands during the Mesolithic. Sets by 8000 to 4000 BC their shelves of hazelnuts commonly found in excavations. Yeah, I think we also mentioned in our chocolate episode, it's episode nine, that hazelnut shells being found on the Isle of Skye data back 8000 years. This continued into the Neolithic period that's about 4000 to 2500 BC. That's been kind of early. Farming began, but even with more settled populations and people producing more and more kind of feed themselves in the land.

Still, 87% of sites, excavator contained. Traces of hazelnuts, Southampton, they are then right into mediaeval times they remains an important part of people's diets due to the importance around. That means that a lot of kind of fake law and history have grown up around nuts and it might also be the semi parents of some of the great trees like Oak trees help to add their mystery in that fateful around them. Yeah and so you are seen as important places of wisdom.

That's why I'm books you kind of have, like the magic trees and kind of wise. If you had taught, I don't know talking.

Plants and stuff in the trees would always be the wisest, and maybe that's because they can get so old as well.

Exactly, yeah yeah, it's like the tree of life and they kind of lift or there is oldest the land out there and they kind of as long as memory. But our change in not consumption also points out how we, the landscape has changed through man's activities. So going from vast forests everywhere there full of nut producing trees and those made way for field modern agriculture, haven't they? So this episode we're going to look at a couple of trees.

And some fake law and the history around them. We also have an interview. The haste of Chestnut chat. So listen out for that at the end and you'll get to learn all about the game of conkers so you actually get on with the show.

And with the show sounds good.

But you're going to start with a Storey by you, say, rate for your school homework, but actually seems rather fitting. Maybe a modern folk tale.

Long, long ago in the mists of ancient time are hopeful that filthy beggar befriended a playful squirrel like and talk to the squirrels name was not Fred. He proved a faithful servant to the beggar by first stealing him a small bowl. The beggar was thankful for, not friends generosity, the beggar said.

If you bring me some food or do my best to put you in human.

Deal cried the helpful squirrel approvingly.

The next day, not for journeys through the busy streets, searching for what the beggar had asked for food to the talking squirrel. This meant hazelnuts, acorns, chestnuts and many more. So that's what he gathered, a plentiful supply of nuts.

Meanwhile, the beggar was doubtful he could return his part of the deal and was fearful. If not, Fred would continue to do his job. The beggar hoped the squirrel would be pitiful and give him another chance.

Later, when not friends returned, he slumped down his loot. The beggar was horrified. Then he picked up the handful and sprang to his feet.

I have an idea.

He added triumphantly.

Tears later.

The other beautiful money is rolling in our pal.

Said the loaded beggar.

And they're not trading. Business has really improved our income, hasn't it?

Questioned, not Fred.

In today's replied Mr. S beggar.

I went house, there are many.

Mansion coming along then.

Brilliant good chaps. The whole families moving in next week. All 130 of us that Fred responded.

The end.

Thank you, so that's a modern naughty fake tail.

So I'm Tom Watson not.



don't find out. Okay, so not is actually a fruit.

That hard shell and the seed inside which can be eaten.

And lots of nuts are not actually nuts, so there's lots of nuts, peanuts, cashew nuts, walnuts. Brazil nuts aren't actually nuts. These are seeds or Lee gyms, but we don't want to talk about those. We want to talk about real nuts today, so we're going to start with hazelnuts. Okay, which I'm sure the squirrel certainly enjoyed in your Storey.

Now Hazel, it's a tree that can grow to about 12 metres. Tool and live for 80 years, but they're often coppiced, and that means that the stems or the trunk or cut down close to the ground. And when they managed like this, they can actually live for hundreds of years and they're more like a large shrub than a tree, so it's not a particularly big by tree terms.

Must get Hazel is the branches. They can be really twisted together so they were used for thatching spas and water. When baskets and more she would have seen the mall.

So that would have been a really good multi use. Hazel trees would have been really good Maltese because help times probably because they reduce their water and Orban stuff and naked. Use the Hazel branches an and they get food as well.

Exactly, yes, so you can understand why there are so important to people.

And why you might get the fake tales that we're going to tell some of, yeah.

Now Hazel, which got both male and female Flowers. So there's a picture here and see these yellow kind of things that look like little fluffy tails hanging down like caterpillars. These are the male Flowers and have these little tiny red bugs. These are the female. Once the female Flowers typically develop into one to four knots in a little cluster.

They do look a little bit naughty from that small, but they kind of got the rough shape.

Now it's believed that I wrote of Hazel could protect you against evil. Spirits will be used for water dividing.

I think that it's divining evening.

And not kid cure fevers or cuffs an also clear your head. Some people even said that Hazel could turn you invisible.

Yeah, pretty good.

And if you just mentioned accounts actually say for the Celts, and it was known as the Tree of Knowledge was also seen as a symbol of fertility, there's a tale of a ancient sacred pool around which 9 Hazel trees grew, and.

Come later in the year, the hazelnut should drop into the pool. Had beaten by a salmon that lives there, and salmon itself is a fish that was revered by Druids.

And the number of spots on each fish would show how many nuts that eaten and also how wise that become.

And once Paradroid master catches the wisest of all the salmon.

We want to eat and get with the knowledge for himself. So he asked one of his apprentices to kick it for him, but under no circumstances must their apprentice eat any whatsoever.

So you can guess what happens.

He eats it.

No, not exactly well, yeah, but what happens is whilst cooking there's like the bubbling pot of water with fish in there, and some of it splashes out and hits the boys hands and that kind of scolds his hand. So he puts it together.

And gives it a good suck because of the pain.

And from that he actually gained all the knowledge of the salmon.

That itself will come from the nuts.

And his name was Fin McCaul and he was a legendary figure in Irish mythology, and he's also won the Giants who created the Giant's Causeway. So here's the Irishman. He thought this one from Scotland does. Yeah, they will help seconds. Do you know how they made?

By the Giants.

Well, some scientists say that they formed 50 to 60 million years ago when volcanic rock graphically cooled and contracted. As it shrinks, the pressure builds up, causing stresses and packing to occur 120 degree angles.

Making the hexagon's so I don't know if that's got anything to do with the rock having like a crystalline structure or not, but I don't think I believe that. I think I believe the Giants made the calls.

Lately, I think that it's pre cut in the ground and then when that does happen it always have rough.

But what would happen if you pick the nuts before they are ripe shall? Well, this is another towel here. Little bit darker this one. So enter Mail, stick a Guardian of ancient forests. He warned against picking hazelnuts before they were ready.

Now way back in our second episode retold the Storey of the fairy invasion of Guernsey.

So you know about fake news that they not always so good and mulch decata dark side two. I'm going to tell you the Storey now.

Now I think this comes from Yorkshire, so maybe when Granny was a young girl and walking through the Woods, she would have been under the watch full gaze of Mel stick.

So can you tell me an animal that loves nuts?


barut be so it's funny. I rate these nights before you write your Storey and I thought it's perfectly fitting what you've done so there's a.

Squirrel karate school.

Yeah, it's cool pictures and yeah.

Say let's find out why they love not so much, shall we?

Only Autumn Day Agrippa boys ventured into the Woods to collect hazelnuts and acorns. There was a mix of older boys in younger boys and one called Odeon had a lame leg. This man is rather slow and he really struggled to keep up with the other lads.

Then all the best nuts had already been taken, and so he could grab with green unripe ones, which you know you shouldn't do. Yeah, after long day of foraging and collecting rate, number of nuts dusk fell, so they decided to set up home so not to get lost in the forest in the dark.

The older boy shouted out to keep up with them as they trudged down. The barely visible paths out of the Woods Santa home. Soon data is lagging far behind it lost sight. The other boys.

Looking around in the shade under an Oak tree, he saw one of his friends waiting for him so he hide. It crosses Farsi, cut as he approached he realised it was not one of the boys, but rather strange old character. His clothes were covered in Moss and his head was a cap of red fur.

I'm from him. The oddest of smells like the entire essence of the forest and the word in all the trees.

And he was melt. Stick, oh Dun Dun Dun. He looked at Dayton said.

Now, then, Dowd.

Why are you going to feeling a little scared? David replied.

I'm off home.

While I'm going your way, so if you'd like, you can come along with me. You're not recognise me, but I can tell her you are by the way you favour your mother.

Together they started walking through the Woods and Otelde melts ****. How keen he was about animals.

And most of all, I love squirrels. Were there too fast for me to catch?

Upon hearing this, mouthsticks ears pricked up and he told of how he had been climbing trees earlier that day in quarter squirrel.

Worried by excited, David agreed to go with him to fetch the animal, but he doesn't stay long.

Most excised glinted in the dimming light and off the path they walked deep into the Woods between the Great Oaks and Birch trees.

Ashley bought the chatted some more.

While you covered in Moss are stayed.

If you went to client trees the same as I have.

Answered lmao stick.

Then you'll be covered in Moss two, I'd say.

And why do you wear a Cup of red fire?

Or should I wear a cap of red fair? I'd like to know. My mother makes them from out of the squirrel skins and their fearful warm in the winter.

They've been walking along time, said they'd asked again about this squirrel. Wait awhile said mouse **** and I'll show you more schools than we've seen in all of your life.

There is an old pond in the middle of the Woods. It was small but deep mouse tick tick a whistle from his pocket and blew a few nights all around the failures. Russled and in the moonlight that filled the small clearing schools jumped and danced between the powersaver hanging the pool of water.

Most, it continued to play and more schools came and began leaping and prancing in a great circle around the pool.

They looked up and watch them excitedly faster and faster. They went and there were so let out this rule shriek that filled the would notice transfixed, mesmerised his body's shaking, and he felt himself spinning around his legs collapsed. And he found the leaf litter undermost expel.

His senses were gone and he's going to be turned into a squirrel as it happened to so many boys and girls he picked on ripe nuts before.

And I'm going to leave the Storey there and let you decide if he escapes or not.

I don't think it does.

Maybe here's the helpful talking Squirrel in your Storey.

I'm a several other similar Woodland spirits such as chair milk pad and not Nan who chased children away hot pokers.

I've got a fate of mouse **** here tormenting a rabbit.

Away nice.

And this actually from a calendar and it's the 5th of February, which is world Nutella Day.

And no discussion of hazelnuts would be complete without the mention of the world's favourite spread. Apparently outsells every brand of peanut butter combined, and it begs peanuts are not real nuts. Sally fake nuts.

Yummy nuts yeah it's good, but I think a lot of that is because people have allergies. Allergies did not Taylor as well. Yes.

365 million kilogrammes have not Teller made every year and it's the same mass as the Empire States building. Not wait, but mass.

And today mate hazelnuts are grown in the mountains of northern Turkey. They account for 70% of the production and for our rain who made Nutella by about 30% of those knots. So recovered from this article episode she should listen to.

We should listen to all our sales, really.

That is true.

But then I see producing big farms. It's actually thousands of tiny farms, kind of on the steep Hills and the labourers who collected nuts, often really poor wages and working conditions. And they spend long hours harvesting the crop by hand because you can't use machinery because the just the Hills are too steep.

There's also some child Labour there is meant to be illegal, but sadly it does still happen.

And there's a really interesting podcast and BBC sounds which are linked in the show. Nate switches listen to.

And then the journalists there he's.

He's like 12 year old boys and girls. They're carrying 35 kilogramme bags of nuts across the Hills. I mean, that's hard work, isn't it?

Now, Ferrari do say that they're striving for 100% race ability for all nuts. It's hard to know how much this is lip service, and with thousands of farmers and brokers in there, it's really complicated tasks from today.

So sadly, it seems that he's not. So don't hold that beautiful mystery of knowledge and folklore that they wanted to do.

This they still hold the beautiful.

Taste they doing, that's right. Yeah, the storeys about them today might be even darker since without profit margins and exploitation. But I don't want to end this talk of hazelnuts and a down note. So if you're one of the older listeners and you enjoy the taste of hazelnuts then you might like front Jellico hazelnut flavoured liqueur that comes in a cool shaped bottle that looks like a Franciscan monk.

Right, that's cool.

It's supposedly named after him at Monk called Fran Angelico, who created unique recipes and liqueurs.

And the more I can read about mediaeval monks doing this podcast, the more fun it seems they had at times.

You just think I was boring.

Old people, but they like doing creative things definitely yeah. Or you just think they waste their time doing massive letters when they write this Scripps.

I love that I love limited texts.

So we're going to talk about another, not now.

That was just not thank.

You, why is there more commonly called conkers and we actually went to the park to record this bit, yeah.

Unfortunately we were bit late in the season to find any, but we did find a few but they weren't great.

Yeah, well, we found the husks of some.

Horse chestnuts seem to be struggling to remember.

And at the end of this feature, we've also got a very special interview with a representative from Puncak up.

So you might be able to hear some voices around us, but where in summary, Park now looking for our second not aren't we? And we're looking for horse chestnuts before we actually. Little bit late in the year and we've come down to summary Park so you may be able to hear birds and chattering and allsorts around us at the moment, yeah, so do you know the common name that they gave by conkers? That's right. Yeah, and justice actually much larger than he's nuts. The trees are and they can grow up to 40 metres tall. Yeah, we can lift up to 300 years.

And they're not actually related to sweet chestnuts either. Some people might think they are for the name.

Now I'm not hazelnuts.

Chestnuts are not safe to eat, but there are Victorian recipes for making flower out of them, just not flower.

But if you had too much that could be poisonous. Say if you only need like 5 grammes of flour in your cooking, that'll be good, yeah?

However, they were fed to horses.

Which is made where they thought.

They got their names. They could actually.

Help relieve horses from coughing and things like that. What it sounds like when they cough.


Horse chestnuts they're not actually native to the UK, and they come from the Balkans and Turkey, and they were introduced to the.

UK in the 16th century.

So this means that actually more often founded and kind of gardens and parks than out in the Woods, which is why we're at the park now.

Unfortunately, we have not been able to find any police for a bit later in the year.

This also means that they don't have much the.

Folklore about them, which you would find with hazelnuts.

Yeah, like the nature, Spurs and things protecting them, but they do have an interesting more modern Storey. Yeah, we'd like to hear it. Please okay? In 1917 during World War One.

There were children.


school children, they were recruited to go and find conkers and also collects acorns. And we've seen that's very concerned.

Well, it was for the war effort and their needs is pinned on classroom walls. Server see things such as this collection isn't viable. War work and is very urgent. Please encourage it.

And then in exchange for the whole, the kids actually earn some pocket money, says so came very popular and about 3000 tonnes of conkers were collecting 1917.

Solo, isn't it?

And they were sent to several facilities.

Around the country for processing with a bacteria called, I'm going to get this wrong.

Tridium Clostridium AC tuber.

Delirium that will do. Thank you and then this producer could ascertain and you know what that was used for.


Well, it's actually crucial in the production of explosives.

Such as nitroglycerin and cordite.

And Chordates was a kind of smokeless.

Explosive that was used to replace gunpowder weapons case after weekend so.

1st, to get your beep and then.

You get deep and then definition. Top it off babe. It's funny you say that it was at school. We used the science teacher, had to make it and would never tell us.

Yeah, so as I said, it's crucial in the.

Production of explosives actually discovered.

By a Russian biochemist who was at Manchester University at the time and he was called Charity Wiseman.

He's very Wiseman.

Russian name but he was machinist and such a graduate of the Ministry of Munitions for helping him out after helping them out. That helped lead to the Balfour Declaration that was when the British called for.

The establishment of Israel.

And Palestine, yeah, the founding of the.

Nation of Israel.

And when he actually became the 1st President of Israel.

So Russian President.

And unfortunately, many of the conkers that she wrote it before they were able to process pieces. Sad, but yeah, those storeys like these great big sacks, them being left at train stations, rusting and also due to the secrecy that they were being used for subsequent the Germans to find out about while we were collecting all of them as some people were actually suspected that they were being.

Collected by school.

Children and then somebody was selling them.

For more money and.

It's even brought in Parliament and the reply that they got orders they were required for.

Certain purposes.

Yeah, I mean it's true I guess.

And despite their poor success, Congress actually again collected during the Second World War for the same purpose.

Sam yeah Congress.

Now it makes very very exciting. We have our first proper interview and.

It's a representative.

From the Conker Cup and he's going to test all about the art of playing conkers, so enjoy.

The interview, I'm excited.

We're joined by a representative from the conquer cop.

Here, who wishes to remain anonymous? Yep, he's bonkers about.

Conkers, though that's right.

So hello, do you want to introduce yourself please?

Thank you very much for coming on their big fans of your podcast team. Yeah, and we've been talking about various nuts this episode. Hazelwell hazelnuts and chestnuts.

And we don't really know that much about conkers. We're hoping that you could teach.

Us some more so.

Can you just give us an introduction to what Congress is and how it's played please?

Yes, well, we know that there's the gentleman's game, and also St cold kids said, how do they vary from the kind of traditional main sports?

It's very pure then.

Sorry, search the conquered the you literally pull up from their hands then.

It is easier.


Much more dignified game than it sounds.

Fantastic, so Anton. What sort of style?

Do you think you'd like to play I?

Like stamping on things they St conkers yeah you're gonna be St.

Conqueror, yeah, so we should be getting some vinegar and things to kind of hard in your nuts, yeah?

Absolutely you can. You can paint.

Yeah, see, unfortunately we actually went to the park the other day.


Being so unprepared, we've.

Missed Conker season and all was left was a few husks on the ground, wasn't it? Yeah, so sad.

So I think we're going to.

Be waiting until next season.


Yes, that is incredibly generous of you. Thank you very much.

K onto our next question, then Miss Horse Chestnuts, then actually native to the UK. So do you think?

That the game of conkers is pushing out other local sports such as Fox tossing hot, hasty pudding eating and we all flunking.


Nice, yeah, it's incredible that she that you're seeing in the sports, yeah?

He recently played your 2020 tournament.

So how did this go?

Between a virus affecting of it, I mean what kind of things I've had to deal with this year with putting on the tournament's.


Very difficult is right away. My mansion, yeah?

And not accidentally mean.


Yeah, fantastic. That sounds like this kind of great sport of conkers is not going to be stopped by something like trainer. I mean it's it's just going to keep going.


yeah that you certainly have fantastic and I think sometimes got a question for you now. Yeah, so should we be allowing children to play the game of conkers because in recent years in the news there's been storeys about safety concerns in the schools.


Yeah, I guess as long as like you saying you're training Welland, you keep yourself.

In good physical shape so that you can really control the swing when you are in your conquer battle, yeah.

Although I am still a little bit concerned, we saw I hear what you're saying about all of these kind of safety equipment that's being provided now always available for people to use. But I'm during World War One school children actually asked to collect conkers to aid the war efforts as they were important for the production of explosives such as nitroglycerin, so.

How safe is it really playing conkers? I mean, if Anton was to start playing, is there chance he's going to explode?



There's no end to what you can do with conkers, actually incredible, not so I can understand where your love of conkers comes from.

The Congress got a bit more weights too.

It doesn't. It says more than.

Man's not, I think. However, I think that coconuts are still the best for conkers.

I guess.