It's October, the leaves are turning yellow, orange & golden. The nights are getting colder and darker. The morning air is crisp and the forest floor is covered in pine cones, beech shells and conkers.
When I was a kid we'd go collecting conkers, the bigger the better! We'd soak them in vinegar, bake them for hours in the oven, basically we'd deploy any and all tactics to create the strongest conker in the world. Then we'd thread a shoelace through our lethal little weapon and go round smashing up every school friends inferior chestnut.
There are probably very few schools left where it's considered socially acceptable to play conkers. Health & safety regs have put a stop to being able to twirl these miniature hammer throws merrily around the playground.
Nevertheless, searching for conkers is so brilliant! Grown on the horse chestnut tree, these little nuts are encased in a spiked green shell, which with a little prising, or a lot of stamping upon by a small child, pops open to reveal a pretty mahogany jewel, or sometimes two, within. The look on Jack's face when we kept finding conker after conker was priceless! Each one was like treasure.
The old wives tale suggests conkers are a great way to keep spiders out of your home. I have no desperate concerns over sharing my house with them, but if eight legged arachnids aren't your thing, try popping shiney brown conkers in every corner.
Here's the recipe I REALLY want to try this year. Inspired by my lovely gardening friend Vix who told me conkers make great laundry detergent! This news comes on the back of an article in this months Metro, in which blogger The Watercress Queen shares her recipe for sustainable suds.
Start with a bag of conkers. Rope in the little ones to help you collect a good basket full. Always remembering to replant some in a place where they can grow big and tall, by way of thanking earth. Yep, it's a bit 'hippy spiritual', but it's a simple way to give thanks & give back.
Next you want to chop up your conkers. You can do this by hand using a sharp knife but it's a tedious process, and not one you can task the kids with! Instead I like to use my Ninja, set to pulse, to roughly chop them up.
Lay the chopped conkers on a sheet of baking paper and bake in the oven on an extra low heat. If you find you need to use the oven in the meantime to prepare lunch or dinner at a higher temperature, simply remove the conkers, then pop them back in once the oven has cooled down again. They haven't got to be baked in one go, but you do want to make sure they're nicely dried out by the time you're done. A dehydrator would be great for this too.
Now take 50g of the dried, chopped conkers and put them in a 500g jar, then fill the jar with boiling water and soak for between 10 to 30 minutes. Strain the liquid into another jar – this liquid is your first batch of laundry detergent. You can soak the conkers again a second and third time. Each time you do the liquid will look a little thinner, and you’ll notice the nice woody, soapy scent will disappear by the third go. When your conkers are all used up they’ll turn from yellow to white.
I have heard that this detergent can be pretty powerful stuff! So use the liquid from your first soak for your dirtiest whites, using the whole lot if you have an especially dirty load and half for a normal wash. You can use the entirety of your second batch for a regular wash, and use the third lot of liquid for anything that only needs a light wash. The used conker pieces can then be added to your compost so you don’t need to clog up your bins.
Store your conkers dry and only add the water when you're ready to create your detergent - it'll keep in the fridge for a week. The dried conkers stay good all year round stored in a big glass jar & look so beautiful.
How did this recipe work out for you? I'm interested to know! I'll be sharing my experience on Instagram! Finally, a big thank you to Watercress Queen for creating such a sustainable & free fun idea.
DISCLAIMER: please don't try eating conkers! They're a horse chestnut & that means they're poisonous. At the very least they taste unpleasant & your tummy will hurt! The edible variety are the sweet chestnut. These are the chestnuts you'll see in the shops at Christmas. They have a much spikier shell like a hedgehog making them almost impossible to prise open. Secondly ... I'll take no responsibility for broken blenders! Conkers are tough, so pulsing them in a machine should only really be done if you have an awesomely powerful processor like this one that's capable of blending ice. You have been warned! Blitz at your own peril :)