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Chinquapin Hunting

I’ve been familiar with the old time tune Chinquapin Hunting for some time, but I didn’t know what a chinquapin was until I attended Midwest Banjo Camp. I figured it was a critter in the possum family, but no, no, no. A chinquapin tree is a particular North American chestnut variety, so a chinquapin is a chestnut, and if you go chinquapin hunting, you’re in fact going chestnut picking.

I found a wonderful version of the tune on the YouTube machine, featuring Bruce Molsky on fiddle. I love the cello (!) player. This tune has great drive, even with no banjo.

When I was a kid, local chestnuts were a premium item, and not to eat. We played a game with them which involved drilling a hole into a chestnut and running a shoe-lace through it, with a knot on one end to stop the nut from coming off. I think we called the game Conkers. We would challenge one another to chestnut battles. The first thing to do was  make a little depression in the ground – the pit – and the kid doing the challenging would lay his chestnut down in the pit first. The other kid would hold the chestnut in one hand and the end of the string in the other and whack his opponent’s chestnut with his own. We would take turns whacking one another’s chestnut until one of them broke. I recall we would keep track of the number of wins a particularly hard chestnut accumulated before breaking. Some kids had special secret formulas to harden their chestnuts so they would reign as conkers champs.

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