Thursday, 10 October 2013

Chestnuts

Commercial crops of chestnuts are harvested in October by laying sheets out under the trees to collect the fallen fruits. The farmers get about €2.50/kg.  Prices for canned chestnuts range from €6.95 to €10.96 a kilo. A 240g can of the most popular brand costs €2.63 at SuperU. Fresh chestnuts (marrons or chataignes in French) are €3 to €3.50/kg in Preuilly market.

 Marrons from our orchard neighbour.

Every year you can sign up for forest randonées to go chestnut gathering in late October. If you do gather your own, make sure you process them within a few days or you will find a pile of frass and your chestnuts full of exit holes made by insect larvae that have been merrily feeding inside.
A group of ripe chestnuts. They fall from the tree still in their prickly casing.

Chestnuts are very time consuming and tedious to prepare, with tough rich glossy brown outer skins that come off to reveal not a smooth cream coloured nut, but a wrinkled and creviced object covered in brown wallpaper. It is this inner skin that takes the time and it is very difficult to winkle it out of all the nooks and crannies. You need to accept that a lot of your chestnuts will break in the process.
Chestnuts scattered on the ground under the tree.

The method I favour is to slit the outer skin once or twice, then microwave them in batches of 10 - 20 for 2 minutes*. Thoroughly peel them while they are still warm (as hot as your finger tips can stand). They can be eaten at this stage (sweet and floury) or you can candy them by following the instructions here. Once candied they are very sweet, but retain that distinctive grainy floury mouthfeel.
Unripe chestnuts on the tree.

If you can't be bothered with all that, buy ready peeled frozen ones.
 A chestnut tree in the forest (in this case a private hunting estate near Yzeures).

*This top tip comes from a friend who overheard it in the marketplace in Preuilly.

3 comments:

  1. Nothing beats roasted chestnuts over an open fire....
    or on top of a wood fired stove in an old, thick based, cast iron frying pan.
    Cut the tips off with kitchen scissors...
    Keep stirring, flipping and rolling them until they begin to char...
    and peel whilst scorchingly hot!!
    If any won't peel... bung them back in the pan to re-heat!!

    Never, ever use the boiling water method... it is messy, fiddly and a lot of the flavour seems to go.

    And if doing candied chestnuts, it is always worth getting the tinned ones to do it with... there is less mess and they hold together better.

    And you didn't mention the special tongs [at Prooly Museum] for picking them up... and the special boots [Museum of Utiles, Lascelles Gunrard] for de-husking the damned things!!

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  2. Tim: Excellent tip with the scissors! I roast chestnuts by wrapping in foil and putting in the ash tray of the wood stove. If I manage not to turn them into little balls of charcoal they are delicious.

    I use frozen chestnuts for candying.

    I didn't mention the tools because I've never noticed them.

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  3. I, too, prefer roast chestnuts. We have a special cast iron pan with holes in it. However I didn't know the scissors trick. Thanks Tim! And I have an excellent recipe for pumpkin and chestnut soup on my blog though it's a little time-consuming.

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