I know this isn’t a Food/Recipe Blog, but I wanted to share my love of a particular Autumn/Winter treat – the humble sweet chestnut and how you too can enjoy and cook them! And of course, you can’t be a proper food/recipe blogger without giving 500 words on your life story, so here we go…
Collecting chestnuts with my dad and then roasting them are some of my favourite childhood memories. In October, my dad would take me to our forest to check on the chestnut trees and once they were ready we’d pack our woven baskets, a mini one for me and a big one for my dad, and we’d pick and pick and pick. Once they dried, we’d get together with neighbours and roast kilos of them above the fire. During roasting, I was put on peeling duty along with the other kids, and we ate until our stomachs were full and then our peeling jobs were taken over by the moms as we were getting too slow. The chestnuts were then frozen and lasted us all winter.
Nowadays I occasionally buy a pack at my local market or at the shop and roast them in the oven, but it just doesn’t taste the same without all the hard labour and hot flames.
Last month on a walk in Petts Wood I stumbled upon its ‘Chestnut Avenue’ and cried from excitement from what I had found there. See, usually Chestnut Road/Avenue/Grove only means that chestnut trees were there long ago – so I wasn’t expecting to actually find over 30 trees and paths filled with the sweet gems.
I picked some, and then some more. And when we walked onto another path full of them I picked some more. Back home I dried them and initially wanted to oven roast one batch and boil the other batch. But I settled for getting a chestnut pan, some wood and roasting them on fire as I wanted the flavour to come through and that is only achievable via and open flame. The added benefit of roasting it on fire is that it makes peeling of the hard shell and fury coating so much easier.
Anyway…now you’ve read my whole life story (as is the custom for recipes online nowadays right?), it’s time for the easy recipe on how to roast your chestnuts in three easy steps.
- sweet chestnuts – you’re too late to pick them yourself now, but most shops and farmer markets stock them now
- chestnut roasting pan – looks like your regular pan, but it has holes and a bit of a longer handle
- fire – make sure it’s a safe environment
- pan with lid – a box that closes off works as well
Once you’ve got the fire going, place the chestnuts in the roasting pan and hold it close above the flames, so fire gets through the holes on the pan.
2. When the chestnuts have started to go black, about five minutes in, shake the pan regularly for another 5-10 minutes until they’ve burned on both sides and have started to split.
Tea’s Top Tip I: Make sure you don’t wear your favourite outfit as it can get messy, and you can’t easily get the smoke smell out of your clothes.
3. Once they’re done on both sides, put them in a pot (or box), close the lid and shake them well – the better you shake them, the less you have to crack open by hand later. Take out the chestnuts and enjoy!
Tea’s Top Tip II: You can use them in a stir-fry, turn them into glacé macron or just eat them as a tasty healthy snack.
And before you ask: No, you can’t substitute sweet chestnuts with horse chestnuts (those are for horses and conkers games only). And yes, you can freeze your chestnuts to enjoy over winter.