Monday, 19 October 2009

The Chestnut

It was a shoot day today and, besides picking up lots of partridge for the bag, I picked up a few chestnuts for the larder. I found a productive tree with fat fallen chestnuts in one of the partridge shoots and came back at the end of the day to fill my pockets. It was not far from the house and a good place to take Spud for a walk.

I brought old Nell along to give her some special time and as a good example for Spud to follow: Nell stays close (she's too old to go as far and as fast as she used to!) and Nell works hard in cover. Nell leads Spud into the bushes and brambles, and she passes her excitement for hunting quarry onto the pup. It was sweet to see the old showing the young how it's done. Nellie has covered some miles in her time.

I forgot how cuddly Nellie is and when I squatted down to pick nuts, this is what I got:

A lapful of dog.

I managed to pick the nuts she wasn't sat on and came back with two tired dogs and a little haul of chestnuts. And the smug self satisfaction that I beat the squirrels to them this year.

I did a little research (thanks Wikipedia!) and found these interesting facts about the chestnut:

The European chestnut is the fruit of the Castanea sativa tree. Chestnuts were introduced into Europe from Asia minor and were successfully grown in mountainous regions of Turkey, Italy and Greece, where cereal crops wouldn't flourish. Chestnuts were a main source of carbohydrate there. They could be stored, dried, and turned into flour (which is gluten-free).

As trade and agriculture improved, and other crops like the potato were introduced, chestnuts fell out of favor, stigmatized as poor peoples' food. Chestnuts have twice as much starch as potatoes, and they are the only "nuts" that have vitamin C.

In early christianity, the chestnut was a symbol of chastity owing to the prickly burr that contains the sweet fruit. I find that image a bit creepy. Worse still, in Bach flower remedies, it's said to cure "extreme mental anguish, hopelessness and despair". I hope I only ever need it for culinary purposes!

The best varieties have burrs with a single large nut; they're sweet, peel easily and aren't too floury. The French make candied chestnuts - marrons glace. The Portuguese make a chestnut liquer. The English add chestnuts to brussel sprouts, which does nothing for either ingredient. I also have a recipe for chestnut soup, but no desire to try it. So far I've only ever roasted them, a la Nat King Cole's Christmas Song. And they are a pain to peel. Hedgewizard describes an easy way to peel chestnuts. I am definitely going to give this method a try.

I just looked in my cookbook which says chestnuts can be sweetened by letting them sit for a few days so some of their starch converts to sugar. This cookbook also has a recipe for a rich chocolate and chestnut pave. I think I know what this batch is destined for. Definitely better than the brussel sprouts option.


Terry Scoville said...

Great post Jen! I really like the photo of Nellie, a lapful of dog. Give her a squeeze for me. Glad you beat the squirrels to the chestnuts too. The chocolate pave sounds delicious.

Poppy Cottage said...

Do you want to adopt me? I learn more from reading your blog then I ever did at school or from my folks!!!!!

Are you able to make it on Thursday?

Kerry said...

nice post seester. Can I come live with you? I just bought a pair of rain boots, so I think I am prepared now. I may need a rain coat, come to think of it. I'm nearly prepared for life on a british farm. I'm learning to drink hot tea, and I reckon I could get used to clotted cream, especially if it was served on a warm slice of chocolate chestnut torte.

Jennifer Montero said...

Hey seester, you know you are always welcome and I certainly have enough wet weather gear for the both of us! Clotted cream is one of the nicer products here, though I'm still envious of your fish tacos and access to good takeout food x

Pomona said...

It's actually wet here as well, now! It has been teeming with rain all day, and I have not even let the hens out, it is so horrid (William Cobbett says not to!). Chestnut and chocolate sounds much nicer than chestnut and sprouts!

Pomona x

Tamar said...

I love the idea of chestnuts -- maybe it's that whole roasting-on-an-open-fire thing -- but I've never warmed up to the actual food. Please find some genius application so those of us in my camp (and I'm convinced we are legion) can bring our reality into line with Bing Crosby's.

Jennifer Montero said...

Pomona - we've got your rain now. More in one night than for the whole of Sept (I'm the nerd with a rain gauge...). Hens have fled to the greenhouse for cover while I have been unblocking backed-up drains. At least it's ggof weather for knitting (lOVED your tea cosy!)

Jennifer Montero said...

Tamar - If you're not 'roasting on an open fire' then chestnuts are definitely a 'filler' ingredient. I recommend pairing them with sugar or chocolate. Not the healthiest option I know. The pave was excellent. The chestnuts in the sauce for venison seemed to be a thickening agent but agreeable. I think they'd be good in a basic muffin recipe, with cinnamon and/or apples maybe?

It did take me over an hour to peel all the chestnuts, but it's a good task for doing while watching TV to make you feel less guilty about..watching TV. And I hated to let the free crop go to waste. I definitely think you should give them one more try.