Despite temperamental (or maybe just ‘mental’) weather and shrinking daylight, I do still have a few ‘favourite things’ at this time of year.
They include walking through dry crunchy fallen autumn leaves – although not yet managed this year as they are all wetter than an otter’s pocket. I also love solar lights in the garden and they definitely take the ‘sting’ out of dark evenings.
I have positioned various types of solar lights so I can see some from almost every window in the cottage. They give me such a lift. And the other favourite thing(s) at this time of year are Chestnuts – sweet chestnuts not horse chestnuts.
Horse chestnuts or conkers are inedible, whereas chestnuts are just a delicious compensation for difficult days. Please don’t confuse the two.
‘Chestnutting’ is another wonderful much-anticipated event attributed to Bob, my dad. He knew where all the best chestnut trees were in a four miles radius of home and more importantly knew all the people who’s land they were on so we had permission to go and fill our boots – or carrier bags.
Going to collect chestnuts was a real ‘marker’ of the seasons and the lead up to ‘chestnutting’ was as important and exciting as the actual harvesting. Dog walks, and even some car trips, would be adapted to be able to check on different trees and a good crop was always hoped for.
Once a few ‘good’ chestnuts were spotted on the ground under the tree, it was a case of waiting for strong winds to bring the ‘bounty’ down–although there was one favourite tree with boughs low enough to allow the chestnuts to be picked straight off the tree in their spiky cases. Of course we also learned at a very young age to wear gloves when picking the chestnuts and how to ‘roll’ the brutally spiky case under your foot to ‘pop’ out the three nuts inside – it is usually only the middle nut that is worth picking up but if you’re lucky you can get a good ‘three-er’. At 57, I am still thrilled to get three chestnuts out of one case.
Finally, as kids, we had to hope for a parent-in-a-good-mood to take us to pick the chestnuts before the squirrels got them all.
I vividly recall Dad coming home and quietly putting a handful of chestnuts on the table signifying that a chestnut picking trip was on the cards – and a ‘haul’ would often be promised for a Sunday morning. Such excitement.
And of course the best chestnuts are the ones with the white bottoms as they peel so much easier – ‘like a boiled egg’, to quote my brother. The inner furry peel comes off of these so much easier too. I think lots of people will have been put off raw chestnuts by just peeling the outer tough shell and eating the nut without removing the inner downy coat. The furry, dry mouth that will result is enough to put anyone off – possibly a clever tactic of nature.
Apparently, and maybe for this very reason, most people roast chestnuts instead of eating them raw.
I also have vivid memories of trying that at home for the first time – with Dad putting a handful of chestnuts directly in the embers of our open fire. In minutes they went off like a shotgun – whoever had told him about the virtues of a roasted chestnut had forgotten to tell him to pierce the ‘shell’ first.
There are lots of cooking methods and recipes for sweet chestnuts on the internet, or of course, peeled properly they are delicious raw.