winter ritual

IMG_8849 I can't remember an autumn or winter when my family didn't roast chestnuts. They're staples of our holiday meals. We can't have a turkey without chestnut stuffing, it seems. My dad developed a whole system of preparing them that's my favorite even now. For Christmas one year I got a chestnut roaster and cookbook, but it broke (the roaster, not the cookbook) during one of the phases of our recent kitchen/hallway renovation (almost done!). And honestly, I was almost relieved. I liked that roaster, really, I did, but it presented us with a whole new way of preparing the chestnuts, and while they were tasty, I'm just not sure I liked them as much as the old way.

Our old way is, admittedly, labor intensive for a snack. It's an all day proposition, so it's best to do it on a cold or rainy Sunday when you have a few football games stretching in front of you.

First you score your chestnuts. Most of the packaging will tell you to do it on the flat side, but I have best success at the tip. Then you put them in a pot, with water to cover and set them to boil for at least twenty minutes. The longer you boil them, the easier they are to peel. You may have to add water as it boils off. After the skins have softened, pour off the hot water, rinse and cover with cold and take off the heat.

Now the fun begins! Time to peel. It's best to do this with company. My dad and I always did it together, and at holidays my grandad would help. Neel doesn't generally eat chestnuts (what's wrong with him?!), so I can't really strong-arm him into the peeling, but Callum does. I think ten is high time to join the family tradition. It's hard on your hands, this part. Your fingers will get wrinkly from the water and your thumbs will get sore under the nail from peeling of the papery part of the skin. Chestnut peeler's thumb is an occupational hazard, I'm afraid.

After peeling, break the chestnuts into smaller pieces and place in a small, heavy pan for roasting. I use a glazed, ceramic dish with a lid, but you could even use a pie dish if pressed. Salt and dot the chestnuts (liberally) with butter and place in a 350 degree oven for... awhile. Hmmm. Twenty to thirty minutes, maybe? Until they're done, really. See photo above. They'll soften and absorb the butter. Finally it's time to eat. Dig into the deliciousness and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

We're planning on chestnuts for our Christmas dinner this year. Chestnut stuffed pork loin, based on a meal I had in Hungary. Hungarians use a lot of chestnuts in their cooking and even leave the nuts as small offerings on the grave markers of their saints. My dad and I have agreed that if you have multiple, additional steps in your recipe, it's permissible to use pre-peeled chestnuts. But only then. My cookbook gathers dust, generally. I'm a purist at heart.