Wednesday, 27 October 2010

mmm, chestnuts...

I was only introduced to roasted chestnuts about four years ago, when my hubby (then fiancee) took me foraging for them in Essex - where we lived at the time - and then his mum cooked them for us. I didn't think I'd like them, I believe I was imagining dry roasted peanut flavour when I saw them! But I was pleasantly suprised to find them sweet and soft and delicious. Every year since then we try to collect some, but we hadn't managed to find a spot with a good haul of decent sized nuts, now that we live in Dorset. Until this year.

On Monday we headed for Canford Heath Nature Reserve, where a friend of my husband told him she used to go chestnut collecting when she was young. We wandered around the woods, but could only find empty shells, so we thought we had been beaten to it by the squirrels.

We wandered a bit further, and found ourselves in amoungst pine trees. We didn't think we'd find any chestnuts there, but it was a lovely day, so we continued our walk, and stopped to eat our picnic lunch on the dry, pine-needle strewn, forest ground.

Then my clever hubby managed to find a lonely chestnut tree surrounded by pine trees. Yay! It only had a few nuts left, which we had to reach up and grab from the branches, but hey, at least we weren't going home empty handed. We gathered them up and then fought our way through prickly heather to go back the short way round. My hubby would tell you I was leading him through scathing thorns that stabbed his legs like pin-pricks, but there was a path, really. He'd be exaggerating. Slightly.

We got into the car and headed home. And then, as we were driving along, we saw a huge, bumper crop of chestnuts all over the verge, spilling onto the tarmac, from a dozen chestnut trees in a clearing just off the road! Ooh, we pulled over sharpish, our car tyres cracking some of the precious nuts that had strayed too far. We leapt out and ran like eager children on christmas morning, and grabbed up handful after handful of large, shiny nuts. I was sooo happy! I love gathering food. This is definitely one of the main reasons I love the Autumn!

I'm afraid there's no piccy of where we found the nuts, as I was way too busy collecting them to stop and get my camera out. Instead, here's a photo of the bowful of beauties we collected:

I included a chestnut leaf in the photo, in case anyone who hasn't gathered them before is inspired to go find a tree nearby! This leaf is one from the ground, so is obviously quite brown, the leaves still on the tree were yellowy-green. I can always tell when it's time to collect chestnuts when we drive past a tree and I see the yellow-green leaves!

You should also know, if you want to go gathering, that you need to make sure you're getting sweet chestnuts, not horse chestnuts (which are also known as conkers). You can tell the difference as sweet chestnuts normally have three nuts in a shell, and you only usually find one conker per shell. And sweet chestnuts fall later, and are smaller (in the uk anyway, I don't know about countries with different climates). You should gather chestnuts as soon as possible after they've fallen, otherwise they get damp. And don't pick up ones with little holes in the shell - they might have a little worm inside! The shell shouldn't be wrinkly either - grab the nice smooth ones.

If you then want to roast your chestnuts in an oven, here's what you do. Use a small, sharp knife to cut a cross in the shell:

And put them onto a baking tray, and then into your oven at 200 degrees C. They take about 20 mins to cook, depending on your oven, but you can tell when they're ready as the shell will be peeling back, and the nuts inside should not look too white:

Then you just peel of the shell, and the thinner brown layer of skin, until you have a nice, creamy looking nut all ready to gobble up:

These ones were for my daughter - she loves them too!

As we managed to collect so many, and they only keep for a few days at room temperature, I've also frozen some, both in puree form and still in shells. I'm hoping the frozen ones will taste good cooked around christmas time!

How about you? Do you like chestnuts? Do you gather your own, or buy them (which I also do when I run out of gathered ones)? Do you have any recipes you like to use them in, or do you just love to roast them? Or can you not stand the things?!

Hope eveyone is having a lovely fall! xx


Rachel Brett said...

I don't really eat chestnuts, apart from at Christmas time. Steve's mum makes a lovely chestnut stuffing! Ooh I can't wait to eat it this year! :)

Amy said...

I've tried them a couple of time but they are not for me .. I do love how you have photographed the walk and the bowl of unroasted chestnuts looks quite inviting!

debs14 said...

This post took me straight back to my childhood, we had an open fire in the dining room and my parents always used to roast chestnuts in the open fire. I'm sure the oven works just fine too!

Anne said...

This sounds like a lovely Autumn day out. I have never really tried chesnuts apart from in stuffing. You have inspired me to try them.

Lea said...

You know I've never had a chestnut. These pictures are great! It sounds like you had a fun day!

Sian said...

I've never had a chestnut either, so this post made great reading. Something else for my list of things to try :)

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