Chinquapin “Worms”: Preserving Ozark Chinquapin Nuts

Chinquapin "Worms": Preserving Ozark Chinquapin Nuts

Tips on how to kill Chestnut weevil larva 

By A.J. Hendershott

Not a lot of people remember chinquapins but those that do are a treasure trove of information.  One of my favorite questions to ask those who recall harvesting the nuts, is how did you preserve chinquapins?  The fun part of asking that questions was I would get a different answer from different people.  I heard answers that ranged from “we didn’t do anything to preserve them” to boiling, roasting or treating them with chemicals. 

So, to understand why this question has a variety of answers let’s start at the beginning.  And a great place to start is with a newspaper article that mentioned the chinquapins on December 28, 1893. 

The author who seemed to have a rather negative view of chinquapins writes, “Never cultivate chinquapins.  Demand is too light for them to make them pay, and the nuts do not keep long.The Chathum Record.  Pittsboro, North Carolina. 

The bold emphasis in that quote is mine.  Based on the location this author was likely referring to Allegheny chinkapins, but the affliction of infestation was applicable to all three north American Castanea species, the Allegheny chinkapin (Castanea pumila), American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) and the Ozark Chinquapin (Castanea ozarkensis).  To learn more about the differences in spelling visit .  

To be clear, this author wasn’t referring to how eagerly Allegheny chinkapins were consumed.  While they were tasty and readily eaten, he was referring to how long they would last until they could no longer be eaten. 

Some people made no effort to preserve the nuts.  Perhaps they would not last long enough to suffer the ravages of the worm because they were chewed and eaten before that could happen.  Evidence of this comes from quotes from this 2013 interview with the Ozark Chinquapin Foundation.  When Jack Hamm, of Russellville, Arkansas was asked, “Did you ever put any chinquapins up for storage?”, he responded, “I do not recall trying to store them.  We usually ate them, sold them (100 for 5 cents) or traded them for other things.

Richard Surber, of Harrison, Arkansas was born in 1920 and remembers just eating the nuts for as long as he could, “We ate the nuts fresh. We never used them for cooking. If you tried to keep the nuts, they got worms in them.

Warren Langham of Fayetteville Arkansas provided an interview with the Ozark Chinquapin Foundation in 2013.  At age 91 his mind was sharp and had clear memories of collecting and tasting what he called “chinkeypins”. 

During that interview Langham recalled, “The ones we picked up, they were the size of the tip of my index finger, a half inch or so.  That was large for a chinkeypin.  We used to eat ‘em raw mostly.  I never did roast any.  I know some people did.  There was no pesticide used to protect them that I remember.  Once in a while you’d crack one and find a worm in it.  I suppose that was laid in there after it flowered, I am not really sure.  I remember seeing holes drilled in the nutshell sometimes.  I expect that worm did that.”

Langham was spot on with his evaluation of the “worm”.  It started with an egg laid at the base of the forming nut in late summer.    The hole in the nut was indeed cut by the “worm.”  It was the exit hole and it signified that the damage to the nut meat had already been completed. (Image 1)   

Image 1: Chestnut weevel larva emerging, illustration by AJ Hendershott

The worm was the larvae of a chestnut weevil (Image 2), and its only food source was chestnut and chinquapin nuts.  There are two species, and most people never see the weevils, it is worth some time to explore more about these nut damage culprits.

Image 2: Chestnut weevil, illustration by AJ Hendershott

Weevils: The Culprits

Entomologists who study invertebrates have identified a lesser chestnut weevil (Curculio sayi) and larger chestnut weevil (Curculio caryatrypes).  Both are native to North America and need chestnuts or chinquapins to survive. 

If you are not familiar with the chestnut weevil, or any other weevil for that matter, don’t be surprised.  While weevils are fairly common – oak weevils being exceptionally common, weevils are mainly nocturnal and fairly small.

Weevils are beetles that have an exceptionally long snout (Images 3&4).  At the end of the snout are the mouth parts that are used for chewing, with females possessing the longer snout.

Images 3: Chestnut weevil, photo credit Colton Zirkle

Images 4: Chestnut weevil, photo credit Colton Zirkle

University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Extension Specialist Ric Bessin, published a fact sheet on the chestnut weevil based on the most recent research.

In his 2019 resource Bessin reports of the two weevils, the lesser chestnut weevil was the more prolific of the two species. These weevils were common up until the impact of the Chinese chestnut blight reduced the commonality of chestnuts and chinquapins. 

The lesser chestnut weevil is, as the name suggests, smaller in size but has a much longer life cycle than the larger chestnut weevil.  The lesser takes a few extra days to hatch from the egg and takes longer to develop into a pupa underground before it eventually emerges above ground as an adult.  The larger chestnut weevil, by comparison has a much-accelerated life cycle.  For details see the table below. 

Lesser Chestnut Weevil

Bessin highlighted some of characteristics of the weevils, “The lesser chestnut weevils are roughly 1/4 inch long when they emerge from the ground beginning in late May until July.” This is about the time when the chinquapins and chestnuts bloom.  After flowering they disappear, and it is not known where they go or how they live for the two to three months between their emergence and their appearance in the trees at egg-laying time. They would eventually lay eggs later in the fall as the nuts are nearly mature and after the burr begins to open. Egg laying occurs throughout the nut ripening period. Adult females deposit eggs into the nut, usually on the round side through tiny holes that look like pinpricks.   Those pinprick-like holes are chewed by the jaw parts that are mounted on the end of their remarkably long snout.  The female then turns around and lays three to five pear-shaped eggs. Each adult female lays up to 50 eggs.  Eggs hatch roughly 10 days allowing the larvae to feed and grow over the next 2-3 weeks inside the nut. 

Typically, the lesser chestnut weevil emerges from the nut, “after it has fallen to the ground,” according to Bessin.  Once satiated on the nut meat, weevil grubs chew a circular hole in the side of the nutshell to escape into the soil (image 1). A hole signifies that damage to the nut is complete.

The life cycle of a lesser chestnut weevil is completed in 2 to 3 years which contrasts with the larger chestnut weevil.  Lesser chestnut weevils overwinter the first year as grubs, pupate the following fall, and overwinter the following winter as adults.  Some pass two winters in the grub stage and a third winter as adults before emerging from the ground.

Larger Chestnut Weevil

The biology of the larger chestnut weevil is different in timing from the lesser chestnut weevil. Bessin explained that the adults begin to emerge in late July and August. The adult is 3/8-inch-long – head to tail, which is on average longer than the lesser chestnut weevil.   As with the lesser chestnut weevil, the snout sets their overall size even longer.


Bessin contrasted the larger chestnut weevil’s life cycle by noting, “Larger chestnut weevils begin egg laying soon after emerging, before egg laying begins with the lesser chestnut weevil. Eggs hatch in 5 to 7 days and the larvae feed for 2 to 3 weeks before leaving the nut. Larger chestnut weevil grubs chew an exit hole in the side of the nut and drop to the ground usually before the nuts fall.  Grubs overwinter in earthen cells in the ground.”

Changing into a pupa and emerging as an adult takes place the following summer. This is a significantly more accelerated life cycle compared the lesser chestnut weevil.  A few grubs will overwinter a second year before pupating. The life cycle is completed in 1 to 2 years.  

When both species are found together, the large chestnut weevil seems to predominate. But new weevil infestations are almost always the small species. Entomologists speculate that the lesser chestnut weevils can fly several miles to find previously un-infested trees.

Comparing the Two Weevils

Image 5: Lesser Chestnut Weevil, female and male, Illustration by AJ Hendershott


Click to enlarge photo below showing table comparing Lesser chestnut weevil and Greater chestnut weevil traits 

Killing the Worm

Now that the “worm” is known to us, the question becomes what did people do to keep them from damaging their foraged goods?

Baking or roasting was common for chestnuts as relayed in the 1946 Nat King Cole song, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire”.

Sue Hall of northwestern Arkansas was also a depression era child who remembers her family eating chinquapins and how they used to make them last a little longer.  Sue obviously was a big fan of the nuts as evidenced when she said, “I’ve eaten so many chinkeypins they should be growing out of my ears.”

Hall explained, “I don’t remember her ever putting them up to store them, but mom used to roast them.  She put them in cakes and cookies.  I don’t remember the cookies so much as the cakes.”  Hall also remembered her mom boiling them.

The Cassville Republican newspaper in Cassville Missouri, published on September 7, 1894,  “Col. S.P. Frost has our sincere thanks for some wormy chinquapins which, with the assistance of Hank Martin, he succeeded in wrestling from their hiding places, Sunday.  They were quite edible after roasting.” 

Notice the words, “. . .Quite edible after roasting.”  We can only assume that some of the nuts were beginning to show signs of infestation, but roasting seemed to have halted it from progressing.

This next newspaper article is interesting because it refers to chinquapins (probably Allegheny) being eaten in late December.  It was printed in The Statesville Record and Landmark in Statesville, North Carolina on January 18, 1954.  According to Joe Ervin who was interviewed for the article, “Nuts from the woods were Christmas specials then, chinquapins being boiled and kept for the holidays, and hunting was a big Christmas sport.” 

What is interesting is the chinquapin nuts were roasted so they would keep until Christmas.  To do otherwise would risk losing many to worm damage.  While this report pertained to Allegheny chinkapins, we know Ozark chinquapins were treated the same way. 

Kenneth Ruark of Washburn, Missouri was born in 1934 and was 77 at the time of the interview in 2012. “I live in Barry County which is in the southwest corner of Missouri.  This area is hilly with rocks!  Mainly flint rocks.  I first heard about chinquapins when I was 3-4.  Dad lived through the Depression when nobody had anything.  My dad liked to make sure we had something special for Christmas, so we had roasted chinquapin nuts.  To do this he placed chinquapin nuts in a bread pan and roasted them on a stove.  He didn’t leave them in there too long.  He’d cook ‘em long enough so he couldn’t put his hand in it.  This was long enough to kill that little egg for the worms.  If you tried to keep a fresh bag of chinquapin nuts without roasting them first, you would end up with nothing, but a bag filled with worm dust,” Ruark explained.

Claud Lewis In Everton, Arkansas also remembered the Ozark chinquapins from his youth during the depression.  According to Lewis, “We boiled them to keep the worms out of them. Sometimes we still had some at Christmas”.

A January 18, 1954, article printed in The Daily Standard newspaper in Sikeston, Missouri focused on the uniqueness of the tree and the author’s memories about it.  In the piece the author recalls, “A chinquapin is really a small chestnut.  So, we roasted them in a slow oven for about 20 minutes.” 

Sometimes people who were interviewed would give you responses that you never would have predicted. 

Jack Hatfield told the Ozark Chinquapin Foundation in 2013 about his memories of the Ozark chinquapin.  During that interview he commented on storage of chinquapins in northwest Arkansas during the depression, “I never did {preserve chinquapins} but dad did.  I think he put chloroform in a bucket and then put the chinkey-pins in it.  If ya didn’t, the bugs‘d get in and make that dust where they got the goody.  Dad used to treat peas in the same way.”

That was a particularly unique way to preserve the nuts.  Here is another one. 

Wilma Obenshain from Rogers, Arkansas also remembered a chemical method for preserving the chinkey-pin nut meat. In the late 1930s and 1940s.  “We used to collect chinkeypins and put ‘em in a gallon jar,” Obenshain said, “We put a few drops of highlife in a small jar and put that in a gallon jar filled with chinkeypin nuts.  Put the lid on the jar and it kills the worms.  It (highlife) was a bisulfide I think.  You can’t get it anymore.”  


As Chinquapins Return

Your trees may not suffer from weevil infestation immediately, but some still do.  The devastating reduction of Castanea species across North America has provided slim pickings to the chestnut weevils.  So, when you get your trees or grove established you may not have any weevil larvae (worms).  But if we all do our job right as conservationists and restore this tree to the landscape, the weevils will find their way to our trees.  So here are some tips we can glean from history as well as some modern adaptations:

  • Collect the nuts as soon as possible.
  • Process them promptly.

Oven Roasting:

  • Oven: Preheat oven to 120-140o or your oven’s lowest setting.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes.
  • Peel shells after cooled.
  • Another option is to fill a cake pan with nuts and a ¼ inch of water to provide steam. This helps the shell separate too.

Grill Roasting:

  • Fire up the grill on medium to high or get a good coal bed going.
  • Place nuts in a cast iron skillet and shake/stir them frequently until they are warm enough you can’t touch them.
  • Shell them after they cool.

Microwave oven:

  • Place nuts around a microwavable dish.
  • Cook for 2-3 minutes on high depending on the power of your appliance. Adjust accordingly.
  • Shell them after they cool.


  • Cover nuts in water in a pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Drain, and remove shells and skins when cool to the touch. 
  • If softer nut meat is desired boil meat for an additional 5 minutes.

Dry storage:

President and founder of the Ozark Chinquapin Foundation Steve Bost deals with weevil eggs using a friction method to remove them from seeds. 

According to Bost, “this is a method I have used effectively to dislodge weevils from the nuts before storing the nuts for later planting or to put into dry storage.”  Bost explains that this works because he is collecting the burs before they fully ripen and open.  By cutting the burs from the limb early he is taking advantage of the fact that weevil eggs take 2-3 weeks to hatch.  The eggs are relatively shallow in the nutshell surface and can be rubbed off.  

Bost explains the method, “Hold the pointed end of the nut directed up between your thumb and index finger and brush with a little pressure 4 or 5 times back and forth a few inches on a coarse material like carpet or the even the denim of your jeans.  This effectively dislodges weevil eggs where they get laid.   Most weevils enter the bur to cut a hole for egg laying at the base of the nut which is known as the hilum.”

“I have done several thousands of nuts this way since 2007,” said Bost.

When it comes to nut storage, Bost has experimented with something few others have done, which involves storing the nuts dry. 

“After removing the threat of weevils, I place the nuts in a wire basket to allow the nuts to air dry,” said Bost. 

He explains that the wire basket is useful because it allows good air circulation to most of the nuts.  He describes the basket as having wire for the sides and base.  Use baskets that measure 12” long, 9” high and 9” wide.  A fine mesh small enough to hold the nuts is required.

For best results Bost advises, “for the first month position the basket so air can circulate around and under it.  Then hand stir the nuts weekly to allow better drying.”

“I have been able to store nuts in this manner for up to 1-5 years.  When you get ready to shell and eat them, discard any nuts that show evidence of mold.  The nuts are hard and dry because of the storage.”  Despite this Bost recommends, “However, when you put one in your mouth, they hydrate very quickly, and you are rewarded with a very sweet flavorful treat you will want more of!”

Float Test:

One last note on chinquapin storage deals with float tests.   Float tests amount to tossing freshly collected nuts in a bucket of water to determine which ones float or sink.   By and large sinkers are good with nut meat worth processing.   Floaters indicate the nut has been infested by a weevil and has lost significant amounts of nut meat, or the nut is moldy.   Floaters get tossed.  This works exceptionally well for walnuts, butternuts, hickory nuts and acorns.

Bost was aware of this process and had acquired nuts from a research plot around the early 2010s in southeastern Missouri.  Bost explained, “I had collected 500-600 nuts and wanted to try out the float test to see how many were good.  I filled a bucket with water and poured the nuts in the bucket.  To my surprise about 90% of the nuts floated.”

Because these nuts were fresh out of the bur or freshly dropped, Steve was curious.  He then cracked several of the floaters open to find they all looked fine.  He then placed several floaters in peat moss to discover they all germinated.   

According to Bost, “I think what is going on here is really fresh nuts sink because they are full of moisture.  But as burs slowly open, they start drying out.  This makes a nut increasingly buoyant even if the weevil hasn’t done any damage.  I also notice that in dried nuts the meat shrinks just a little inside the shell.”  That air zone around the shrunken nut adds to the ability to float. 

If the nuts are collected fresh and promptly processed, they are most likely to be good.  However, the longer they sit or wait to be collected the better chance weevil damage will ensue. 

“The float test just isn’t reliable with chinquapins,” Bost assessed.

It seems best to be quick about your harvest.


Any of the heat treatment methods will effectively kill the egg or any freshly hatched larvae.  To the astute reader, yes, that means there are weevil eggs in the chinquapin you eat.  My advice is to try not to think about it.  They taste great with or without the eggs and you will never tell the difference and it will never harm you. 

Be advised that roasting, boiling and drying can make the nut harder to chew.  You can also freeze them for a few days. Keep in mind that this may reduce the flavor slightly.

Chinquapins were tasty treats that were naturally sweet and full of nutrition.  To learn more about this visit .  Our two native chestnut weevils made storing them long term problematic, but there are some work arounds through roasting, boiling and other methods.

These processes are good to know for two reasons.  First, using them can connect us to our past, our ancestors and those who remember the “chinkeypin” well.   Second, we are already seeing more and more people cultivating Ozark chinquapins.  As we get trees with better resistance to the blight ( ) we will have more opportunity to harvest, eat and hopefully, even store our beloved chinquapin nuts.  Let’s look to the future with anticipation that the next time someone gets asked about preserving nuts to store them, the answer is sourced from modern firsthand experience – thanks to restoration efforts.