sweet chestnuts

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.

sweet chestnuts © elisa rathje 2011

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.

sweet chestnuts © elisa rathje 2011

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.

rosehip cordial

Last year we made a rosehip infusion, sweetened lightly with a little stevia, and used within a short time like you would fresh juice. This year we wanted to preserve rosehip cordial to use medicinally throughout the winter. Gathering rosehips to make a vitamin C-rich cordial was encouraged during wartime in Britain. We’re growing very fond of the tradition. We used a combination of rosehips, including apple roses like the ones Alÿs Fowler showed us. We’re so fond of nibbling round those fresh, but they were starting to go, so we hurried to collect a bowl of them.

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

Give the hips a rinse,

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

Then remove the stems. Aren’t they just gorgeous?

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

Chop them roughly. Keep in mind that the seeds are used for itching powder! You needn’t remove them though.

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

Toss them in a pot of boiling water using just less than double the volume of water as their weight – so if you have 400 grams of rosehips, use about 700ml of water. Bring it all to boil again, leave it to cool somewhat, and pour through a scalded cloth.

rosehip-5

Hang up your muslin or jelly bag full of rosehips and let them drip for a while, and repeat the whole process again. This time leave it to hang overnight.

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

Combine the infusions and measure them. The River Cottage Preserves recipe calls for 650 grams of sugar to about 1 litre of juice.

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

Slowly heat til the sugar is dissolved, then boil for a couple of minutes.

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

I sterilise my cordial bottles in the dishwasher and if I can’t time it well to have warm bottles ready, I fill them with hot water while they’re waiting, then quickly pour the water out just before ladling in the hot syrup and corking them. Preserves says to use within 4 months. This won’t be a problem over here. Sterilise in a water bath if you want to keep it longer, and keep refrigerated once opened. We love a couple of splashes of rosehip cordial in a glass of water and we’re very much looking forward to having it all through the cold seasons.