We have many beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) at Balsamea, and many red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) very happy about it.
One day I noticed one of our red squirrels tossing things out of one of our largest beech trees. They were beech nut pods, inside which the tiny beech nut resides, inside which the tinier edible seed resides. That seed is about the size of a pine nut. There are two nuts in each pod, one seed in each nut.
I spent several hours spread out over a couple of weeks trying to figure out how to get into that hard inner shell. Nothing I found on the web helped. It made me wonder if the people writing about eating beech nuts ever opened one. Or maybe I’m just a lunkhead.
I tried crushing and soaking and boiling and roasting at various temperatures and durations. I tried chewing them in the shell. Think of chewing on a piece of 2×4. Maybe soaking them for a month would do it.
Finally it came down to technique in how to split-peel it open on one of the three sides, for those that were eligible for opening. Eventually I learned to spot the ones that would open most readily. Then, about only a third of them had seeds in them.
If we say that twenty seeds is a mouthful (thinking about using these things as a source of nutrition), I suppose that with practice I could produce a mouthful per hour, if I first harvested a couple hundred pods, carefully selecting them for the right maturity.
I did try harvesting a dozen green pods that had not yet opened. I forget now how long it took, but they did dry out and peel themselves open. So, as food, you could harvest a barrel of them and spread them out to dry, under guard from wildlife.
When the pods dry, they divide into four wedges that curl back, toward the stem base, away from the nuts. It looks a bit like a flower. From that point, the nuts either fall out or are easily picked out.
Given the labor involved, from harvesting to shelling, it is no wonder you never see them in the store. They’d cost a hundred bucks an ounce.
They have a nice flavor that seems to me something like walnut and almond combined.
Beech trees may grow for decades before producing pods, and a given tree may not produce them every year.
If somebody gives you a mouthful of beech seeds that they freshly harvested and shelled for you, know in your heart that they love you. Or they are just nutty above the neck.