Saturday 1 October 2016

Collecting Conkers

We're well into Autumn.  This week, something that made me feel that I was making the most of the season was a few minutes spent gathering conkers.

It's an inspiring time - you could be making a colour chart of leaves, drying and lacquering fruit for wreaths, making spiced crabapple jellies or positioning decorative squashes... but I got down to a city centre park and scouted from one horse chestnut tree to the next (it made me appreciate the variety of trees in Southampton's Watts Park), filling pockets of a satchel with the shiniest and the roundest nuts.

Vinegar Vs. Varnish
STAGE TWO:  to play conkers!  To be honest, I didn't play conkers as a boy.  I've collected them more often as decorations.  Research could be endless but, deciding to take this at a run, I perused a few different sets of rules - there are clubs and championships, of course (and a few much-publicised safety concerns) and I'm itching for a match.

The biggest part of preparation is how to treat the conker.  Traditionally, schoolboys have done all sorts of things - boiling in vinegar, filling them with grit and scrap metal, varnishing, baking, storing for years...  Here are my entirely unscientific test batches:

Fresh conkers:

  • Neat, raw, unadulterated, au naturel
  • Soaked in vinegar for one hour; baked high for half an hour
  • Baked in a low oven for several hours
  • Boiled in vinegar and salt for one hour and dried in the oven
  • Varnished

Old conkers:

  • Neat
  • Varnished

Oh, and I'm saving some for next year.  The old ones are a bit fragile but I'm not too bothered about making the hardest of the hard - I just want some entertaining smashing-up.  I'll know more next year.

As for the strings, I didn't go for the traditional bootlaces but I drilled holes and threaded string.  When play begins, they might turn out to need more knots.

Conkers in vinegar; conkers in ink.

These drawings could form a pleasing pattern but now I'm heading out to see friends and smash nuts on strings - essential for Autumn!