I’m amazed to discover just how many local, foraged foods I’ve rarely even tasted. Traditionally roasted whole sweet chestnuts is one of them. Castanea sativa. We were thrilled to find heavily laden chestnut trees in the countryside around us, and gathered some whenever we walked by.
I have eaten chestnuts, once. For an anniversary, when we were in Paris for work, my sweetheart and I went to a remarkable Corsican restaurant where marron is used in extraordinary ways. We tried chestnut wine, chestnut bread, chestnut ice cream. It was intoxicatingly delicious, unforgettably so. We don’t have enough from our foraging to grind chestnut flour, but I’d love to try some day.
Author, gardener and forager, Alÿs Fowler introduced me to the sweet chestnut on a foraging walk in September, before the chestnuts were ripe. This autumn some neighbourhood children showed me how to gently step on the spiky cases to press them open and pinch the deeply coloured seeds from inside. My tall girl says to score the skin with an X around the tufty end before roasting, so that they don’t explode, an effect that she tested at her bushcraft course. I’d love to try a traditional chestnut roasting pan, a friend offered to lend us hers. Exciting! For now we’re saving the chestnuts in the fridge for the holidays, to roast them over an open fire.