Friday, September 17, 2010
They're called caltrops after the vicious four-spiked medieval weapon (the caltrops in my post have two spikes, but some varieties have four), and believe me, you wouldn't want to step on one.
There are also some nice photos over here. Water caltrops are the nuts of the aquatic plant Trapa bicornis. In some areas of North America they are apparently growing out of control and have been designated a noxious weed. In China (I read) they are cultivated and considered lucky because one of their Chinese names, fu, is the same as the Chinese word for happiness. The Chinese Mid-Autumn festival is coming up, and these nuts are sometimes served as a traditional food for it, boiled or roasted. So much for my erudition, picked up here and there on the Internet over the last day or so, before which I had never even heard of these creatures.
So, okay, what are they like? Well, you see them:
I admit to some difficulty working up any kind of enthusiasm about the prospect of eating this...in fact I had to try very hard to get over the idea that it didn't want to be eaten.
The shell is very tough and brittle. You need a nut cracker or pliers to crack it open. But don't eat the meat raw--it's toxic that way! So are cashews and lima beans, so I could get over that. What was a little (okay, a lot) more scary was that you can apparently sometimes get worms from these nuts. But, bravely, I forged ahead. I hope I don't get worms.
The nuts seemed fresh, but they had a faint unpleasant sewage-y smell, even after a vigorous washing and brushing, that grew more unpleasant as I worked with them. I tried boiling them for 20 minutes with some star anise, as recommended here:
Despite the anise, the smell intensified, and I am almost positive that the star anise was added to the "recipe" to mask it, since the anise taste doesn't actually get into the nut meat. It was nauseating enough that I opened all the windows to allow it free passage out of the house.
The cooked bat nut (which still had to be cracked open with pliers):
What does it taste like? The taste was like chestnuts, sort of fresh-but-nothing-much. The bad smell seemed concentrated in the shells. The texture of the cooked nut was powdery and starchy, and I don't know how you would get the meat out whole (though no doubt there is a way: if they can do it with Brazil nuts they can do it with these).
Yes, these would make great Halloween decorations, if not for the scent, which though it departed quickly from my house, has made itself at home in my memory and I won't be buying these again...though I like the idea of a Mid-Autumn Festival a lot...