It took a few guests to ask what the furry fruit at the bottom of the block were for me to realise it was chestnut season. At first, I didn’t take much notice but when Maus’ brother, Trevor, brought some nuts into the house, I thought I had better venture out and have a look. Lo and behold, a mass of spiny burrs decorated the ground around our two trees. With thick leather gloves and secateurs, we went chestnut collecting.
As I am sure you all know, when it comes to chestnuts, removing the spiny burr is only the start of it. Next, you must peel them.
The main impetus for this post is my overwhelming desire to quote from Elizabeth David in French Provincial Cooking:
A tremendous fuss is made about the difficulty of shelling and skinning chestnuts. It is really very easy but people who are not accustomed to cooking and, consequently, to handling food when it is hot, are better advised to leave the job to more experienced cooks and housewives. It is all a question of how much heat your hands can stand and it is well known that women are better at this than men.
I don’t know about that, Elizabeth. My hands are very sensitive to heat. Maus has much more tolerance than me. But I persevered and, with Maus’ help, shelled this lot.
Ms David’s technique for shelling and skinning chestnuts is as follows:
Score the chestnuts across on the rounded side and put them in a baking tin in a gentle oven, Gas No.3, 330deg F [165°C], for 15 to 20 minutes, or else drop them in boiling water and boil them for about 8 minutes [I boiled ours]. Extract a few at a time so that the rest do not get cool, for then they become difficult to peel. Squeeze each chestnut so that the shell cracks and then, with the aid of a small knife, it is quite easy to remove both skins and shell.
As you can see from the photo below, we didn’t do a very good job of removing the skin but it didn’t seem to matter. We ate the lot, skin and all.
If you have never tried chestnuts, now is the time to try. You don’t need a tree. They are in the shops at the moment. In fact, I saw some today. Of course, you could buy peeled frozen chestnuts but you would miss out on a lot of fun (and burnt fingers).
Now to today’s recipe – devilled chestnuts. Ms David advises these chestnuts go nicely with bacon or grilled gammon rashers or with a roast saddle of hare. I can vouch that they were also pretty good with Italian sausages and a salad of ubiquitous cucumbers and cherry tomatoes.
- Gently cook shelled and skinned chestnuts in stock or water until tender. (I didn’t need to do this step. After eight minutes in the boiling water, they were already tender.)
- Sprinkle the chestnuts with salt and a little cayenne pepper.
- Fry them, very gently, in a little olive oil for a minute or two.