I mean sweet or Spanish chestnuts, not horse chestnuts or conkers. Conkers may be fun for the young (although personally I rapidly got bored by whacking a conker on a string until mine or my opponent’s split) but sweet chestnuts are an enduring passion. Both chestnuts and conkers have a brief season. Chestnuts can be roasted on the kitchen hob, but my love of roast chestnuts has been rekindled by the recent purchase and installation of our woodburner. It is ideal for roasting chestnuts on the flat cast iron top.
There are other ways eating chestnuts; until I was married I had never eaten boiled chestnuts, but these were a favourite with Doris Turner, my mother-in-law. They are alright, but not as delicious as roast ones. There are lots of recipes that include chestnuts from soups and stuffings to marrons gladé; these are more my wife’s department. I can cope with simpe roasting.
Where to get your chestnuts from? Out local branch of Tesco will stock them some years and some years they won’t. These nuts when they have them are imported from Spain, like all the chestnuts available commercially. Although they grow prolifically in this country the size is generally meagre, and so no good for marketing. Some years when the climate has been suitably moist during the summer they do grow to a good size and may be gathered from the woods. Where I live this means Felthorpe Woods which are not much more than a mile away from where I live. They is no fence and people appear to be free to help themselves, although things may change now that the woods have recently been sold. These woods are full of chestnut trees.
When gathering your own chestnuts sometimes the cases will already be open and you can see if the contents are of a decent size. More often than not however the cases will remain closed as they lie on the ground. The prickles are not as sharp as they are on conkers, but the job of undoing them can get a bit uncomfortable with bare fingers, and I prefer, if possible, to open up the cases by standing on them.
Last season was one when Tesco had no chestnuts, at least in our branch. I have seen none this year either. I am no longer capable of gathering nuts for myself, so I am reliant on buying them where I can. I thought last year would be a nutless one, but in February Molly and I travelled to Brussels to visit my son who was living there at the time. There is a very good Sunday vegetable market outside the main railway station in Brussels, and there my wife found some kilo bags of chestnuts, and they were not at all expensive. By contrast if you buy a little bag of about three nuts already roasted on the streets of Norwich they cost a small fortune. Anyway, I was able to have my yearly ration of chestnuts after all. The nuts were not from Belgium at all, but imported across the globe from China!
They were certainly a good size, but the flavour was not quite as good as authentic Spanish chestnuts. Would I have thought this if had not spotted that they came from half way around the world? I think so, but I would say that, wouldn’t I? And they weren’t at all bad, when all’s said and done. The marvel is that they can be brought so far and still be sold for so little.