Since May 2011 I have been working in temporary office premises owing to earthquake damage to my previous work building in Sockburn, a suburb which lies approximately 10 kms south-west of Christchurch. My present location is a wooden bungalow known as the Avice Hill Arts and Crafts Centre, situated in the north-western suburb of Burnside in a small, very pleasant reserve, with lots of trees, flowering shrubs and roses, beautiful rhododendrons and azaleas, a lovely herb garden maintained by the Canterbury Herb Society, and a number of mature nut trees.
With autumn now upon us, this means that the nuts have started falling to the ground, and every day there are regular visitors to the reserve who scout out and collect these nuts for their own use. Observing them today brought to mind that line from an old nursery rhyme or song, “Here we go gathering nuts in May”, which started me thinking about a few things about this that didn’t quite add up – here’s what I mean:
1. The rhyme is a traditional English one.
2. Nuts are more commonly found in autumn and winter.
3. Autumn in England is September/October, and certainly not May, which is springtime.
You see my dilemma? Nuts = autumn, but May = spring … so something does not compute!
You’ll be able to guess, I’m sure, where I turned to next: yup, my old friend Google came to my rescue once more, and I discovered a wonderful extract from The Telegraph, which hosts “a quietly intriguing column from the brains behind QI, the BBC quiz show”, and informed me thus:
“The children’s song ‘Here We Go Gathering Nuts in May’ makes no sense: there are no nuts to gather in May. It is a corruption of the phrase “Here we go gathering knots of may” and refers to the ancient custom of picking bunches (knots) of flowers on May Day to celebrate the end of winter.”
Ah, so that explains it!
But wait, there’s more 🙂 Reading through the article, I discovered that my understanding of what exactly constitutes a nut is completely up the pole. Wrong, incorrect, mistaken, off beam, wide of the mark, and erroneous. Take peanuts, for example: nope, not nuts, they are a type of pea which grows underground. What about Brazil nuts (one of my favourites)? Nope, wrong again – Brazil nuts are actually seeds contained in a capsule or pod, which splits apart. True nuts don’t split – the seed and the fruit are one and the same. (And, what’s more, it appears that Brazil nuts mostly come from Bolivia – in Brazil, they are called castanhas, or chestnuts.) Coconuts? Uh-uh – they are actually drupes (from the Greek dryppa, meaning “tree-ripened”). Drupes are fruit with a fleshy outer coating enclosing a hard shell containing a seed: almonds, walnuts, olives, dates and coffee also fall into this category. Aaaghhh! How could I be so mistaken??! Walnuts! Surely, SURELY these are nuts, yes? NO-O-O-O, they, too, are drupes. Cashew nuts? So-rry! These are the seeds of the cashew drupe, a member of the poison-ivy family (charming!). And, just to add to the confusion, unlike Brazil nuts, cashews really do come from Brazil … ***SIGH***
So, what is left that DOES actually qualify as a real dinkum, put-your-last-dollar-on-it, kosher nut? To quote the article:
With the rain over the last couple of days the temperatures have been much cooler, particularly in the South Island: Invercargill, right at the bottom of the island, had a mimimum temp. of only 4.9ºC today , although one centre in the North Island (I think it might have been … Napier?) still managed to hit 33ºC yesterday, and I don’t think they got nearly the same amount of rain as we did down here. However, in the same way that one swallow doth not a summer make, one good rainstorm is not enough to break the drought, and things are still pretty dire around much of the country. Here’s hoping there is some relief in sight sometime real soon.