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.
You might have noticed I do like some food. I have had the luck
more like fucking hard work that is – to live in a few countries for a longer period of time and every country has left its impressions on my tastebuds – so today I am mentioning the things I dearly miss.
I am used to not having most Dutch things, but Calve peanut butter is something I miss almost everyday. You know those days as a student just before payday where you have nothing but peanut butter for breakfast, lunch and sometimes even dinner? Well it was no pain with Calve. It’s so rich and the aroma is something else. I used to mention that I missed Dutch cheese a lot, but it became tiring so I stopped that.
I don’t miss that much from Germany to be honest. Probably the kebabs? Not a big fan of the schnitzels and sausages, but I must say the rye bread was nice, especially topped off with Nutella (apparently the chocolate spread for World Cup winners). But pretzels filled with butter is what I miss the most. When I used to work on Sundays my colleague would bring in a butter pretzel and we would share it before opening up. It was a true (salted bread wrapped in fat) joy.
I can do without kangaroo meat, Vegemite and meat pies. But Australian pavlova pie or Tim Tams weren’t too bad. Apparently Tim Tams are a rip off of Penguin biscuits from the UK – which sadly aren’t shaped like penguins, but have a penguin on the wrapper as well as a really bad joke.
Bosnian food is something I often miss, I can make a few dishes, but it always lacks that something special – so I really enjoy it to the fullest when I’m back there. Pita, Bosnian’s very own comfort food, is a filo dough filled with meat, potatoes, various vegetables or cheese that you usually top off with yoghurt. My favourite varieties are the one with potatoes, spinach and meat and pumpkin … so pretty much all of them. If you are in the Balkans and would like to try pita – and you should, you can get them at bakeries rather than at a restaurant. Cockta is Yugoslavian (though now it’s politicly correct to say it’s Slovenian) Coca Cola rip off and it smells and tastes like a mix of cough syrup and Martini. You find the name funny? Well get this – one of their slogans is ”You Never Forget Your First”…
I’ve tried Finnish dishes here and there during my time in Jyväskylä and the spinach pancakes were the things on my plate that stood out the most. I tried to make them myself, but failed so now I just put spinach on top of a pancake. And there is Leipäjuusto Finnish squeaky bread cheese, with a halloumi like structure, that my host served with jam.
Writing this makes me realise how much I actually love Austrian food. But my favourite has to be Käsespätzle: noodles smothered in cheese with caramelised onions on top, it’s pretty much the Austrian take on Mac & Cheese. Or Kaiserschmarrn, a light fluffy shredded pancake covered with powdered sugar and eaten with (homemade) apple sauce. I have to stop torturing myself so I am going to have to stop here before my stomach starts to cry. For my Innsbruck trip
What food do YOU miss from abroad?
Borough Market has a reputation as the best food market in London. But just 10 minutes from here under some railway arches you’ll find a much smaller, but more than impressive competitor – Maltby Street Market. If you are the type who likes to go where the locals go, then this is the market for you. And for Londoners – if you haven’t been there already, it’s time to make the trip.
When I think of Dublin I think of the wonderful people I met, the interesting conversations we had and the great food we ate. Today I am sharing my favourite breakfast and lunch hotspots.