The pignut is the fruit of the pignut hickory, a common tree that grows 90 or so feet high. A century or three ago, some people collected and ate the somewhat bitter meats of pignuts, though most people ignored them as food. Instead, as the name suggests, many a thrifty farmer would collect them to feed to his stock.
However, not everyone cast pignuts before swine. “I am partial to the peculiar and wholesome sweetness of a nut, and I think that some time is profitably spent every autumn in gathering even such as our pignuts,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in his diary one November. “Some of them are a very sizeable, rich looking and palatable fruit.”
“How can we expect to understand nature unless we accept like children these her smallest gifts, valuing them more as her gifts than for their intrinsic value.”
Alas, encouraging the eating of pignuts is too much to ask today. Besides being bitter, the kernel is up to 80% fat, and offers few vitamins or minerals.
The farmers were probably right.