The art of ageing conkers
I’ve been testing / playing around with ageing conkers for the last couple of years. Apart from conkers, am a novice wine collector and have been learning the ropes of both wine ageing alongside learning about how conkers age.
Here are a couple of things I’ve discovered - both the good and bad . . .
Light to dark
Unlike red wine, which gets lighter with age, conkers get darker. From the light tan of a freshly hatched conker, conkers go darker with age. The oldest conkers I have aged so far are two years old, and you can see a marked difference in colour between nearly hatched conkers, which tend to be a lighter tan coloured, and aged conkers which go a deep dark earthy brown colour.
The change in colour reflects the change in a conker’s natural oils and water content, with the conker naturally drying out - creating a balance towards more oils and less water and giving them a deeper colour.
With ageing also comes a loss of a conkers natural glowing sheen. This sheen is usually lost 3 or 4 days after picking. Older conkers have a completely dull look. This first sheen is largely down to the natural moisture that comes from it cooking in its shell, and over time dries out.
Interestingly, if you buff an aged conker with a brush or cloth (nylon tights are the best!) they’ll shine up nicely, as the buffing will bring out the natural oils of the conker’s shell.
Big isn’t necessarily beautiful
An aged conker will be up to half the volume of its original size, as the conker dries out and loses the bulk of its moisture. A conker that’s been aged in the correct conditions will naturally dry around it’s core, meaning that the shell will slowly shrink to fit around its core - creating a crinkled / creviced look, not too dissimilar to the look of other dried fruit.
Good Humidity levels & airflow
Maintaining the correct environmental conditions for your conkers is key to good ageing; too much moisture and your conkers will go mouldy (either inside or out); too little and they’re become too brittle and smash easily. We’ve experienced a lot of different problems mainly relating to mould. Mould on the outside is manageable - and can easily be wiped / brushed out, and doesn’t cause any long lasting damage.
It’s the mould in the inside that is the problem - causing the core to rot. The result of a mouldy core is that it detaches itself from the shell (as each dry at different speeds) creating a gap between the two and making the conker super weak and easily smashable.
To try and counter all of these mould problems we age our conkers in our Peckham cellar in old apple crates to give maximum aeration, in a non-too-moist air environment.