I have a lot of old books: old cookbooks, home economics books, tool books, farming books, you name it. Many of the tips and recipes I share with you either come from these books (always cited!) or are inspired by them. We’re headed back to a simpler way of life, and old books are a wonderful resource I learn from again and again. Imagine my excitement when I started reading in several old sources (an old science book, a book on pre-Civil War Virginia) about making a night-light from a horse chestnut! Naturally I had to try it!
The instructions from all sources were the same: Take a horse chestnut, prick the skin all over with small holes, and soak the chestnut for 12 hours in lamp oil. After the soaking, probe a hole into the center of the chestnut, insert a cotton wick, float the chestnut in a glass of water, and light! The chestnut lamp was guaranteed to stay lit all night! How could this not be fun to try out?
I had a bag of chestnuts leftover from Christmas that I never got a chance to roast, so I dug a few nuts out of the bag to try this out. I selected chestnuts that were decidedly flat on one side (another tip from days gone by) so the nut wouldn’t roll over when placed in the glass of water. I tested each nut in a glass of water and they did, indeed, float.
A large needle served to prick a nut’s skin all over with small holes, but since I didn’t have any lamp oil on hand I soaked the nuts in canola oil, which I’ve read can be a substitute for lamp oil. I let them sit overnight and then moved on to the next step, which was to bore a hole into the center of the flat side, insert a cotton wick (I used a thick thread), float the transformed nut in a glass of water, and light the wick.
It certainly looked pretty! But I was really curious whether the nut would burn all night as promised, and serve as a safe light via flame (presumably the reason for floating the lit nut in water) all night.
Alas, neither nut lasted for more than about 10 minutes of burn-time (I tried one in water and one on a plate). Whether soaking the nuts in lamp oil would have made a difference I’m not sure. But it’s worth a shot! In any event, it was a fun experiment and the next time I have lamp oil on hand, I’ll give it a go again!