Friday, 6 December 2013

Championing Sweet Chestnuts

Chestnuts waiting to fall.
Anyone with a sweet chestnut tree near to their home will know what a great year it has been for this superb nut. I am lucky enough to have not 1 but 2 of these majestic trees just a 30 meters from my door, well I did plant them on purpose of course because I just love to eat chestnuts and a forest garden should include them if its large enough. My trees were planted just 11 years ago and this year I have managed to collect about 12Kg of nice quality nuts.

I well remember as a child my Dad taking me into Richmond park to collect chestnuts from some truly magnificent trees may of which still stand today, in those days the public were still allowed to collect them but nowadays they have to be left to the deer and squirrels. I did manage to use my shoes to peel the prickly burr to reveal the nuts but it was quite tricky and was quite a knack. I also remember well trying to peel the inner skin (pedicule)off the raw nut so I could get a taste of the nut in its raw state but beware if this wasn't taken off entirely the nut was virtually inedible. When we got them home and roasted them all the undesirable bits came away easily and the delightful irresistible taste of roasted chestnut hooked me for life.

As a vegan chestnuts have become an important part of my dietary regime but I have to say getting them ready to eat is not without its challenges.

A|s the trees are accessed every day the nuts are best dealt with immediately as the pedicule is more easily removed whilst it is still in its damp fresh state. If allowed to dry then the process becomes more difficult. This year the sheer weight of the crop meant that I could not keep up, so into the fridge they went ( nb I must invest in a bigger fridge for next season).  After many different methods of processing I came up with what I consider the ultimate solution, unless anyone has a better method(suggestions welcome)

taken out of the husks using protective gloves.
Keep a saucepan half full of water on a rolling simmer. Take 6 nuts cut a cross in the  pointed end,pop into the water for about 2 minutes. Take out and replace the nuts with 6 others. The skin and pedicle will come away easily taking about 2 mins so you can keep a constant stream of production until your complete batch is finished.

Now with the partially cooked nuts you can put them in the fridge for a few days or freeze them for cooking later. Of course if you just want them for roasting keep them in their skins and when roasted both the skin an pedicle will come away fairly easily.

What to do with the semi cooked nuts then.

How about a chestnut roast, here is my first one ready to be wrapped in greaseproof paper and stored in the freezer.I have me 3 so far ready for the festive season.

Perhaps a chestnut and mushroom wellington, I am now working up some recipes and as soon as perfected will be happy to publish to my readers.

Chestnut flower is also another option as well as chestnut puree which can be converted into delicious sweet dishes. I will have ago at both after Christmas and report my findings.

I should also tell of the reason why this posting is rather late. Well its Phytopthera Ramosa the dreaded pathogen which has been devastating the larch population in West Wales .I had 3 healthy trees but was warned that they would eventually succumb and as this pathogen also attacks sweet chestnuts I was advised to act sooner rather than later. So my 3 -35 year old trees had to be felled. There was and still is a lot of work left for me to do as the tree surgeon only took a day to complete the work, I  wanted to use every part of the wood branches and needles so after cutting the trunks into rounds I have all the rest to do. I do have the benefit of more light , 3 nice chopping blocks and a years supply of firewood. I have lost the graceful pendulous swinging arms of those beautiful trees which graced the garden for such a long time. We can only hope that some way will be found to re introduce this important tree some time in the future.