October 24, 2009
This might be the simplest way to prepare chestnuts (with the exception of eating them raw, which apparently some people swear by). Take a sharp knife and cut an x across the top of the nut, pop as many as you want in a covered dish and stick them in the oven. I cooked mine in a 400 degree oven until they were tender, which I think took about 30 minutes, although I wasn’t watching the clock. I took them out, put a pot holder under the roaster, wrapped the whole thing in a towel to keep the chestnuts warm, and sat down by the fire to enjoy a quick dinner.
The trick is to keep the chestnuts warm as you are peeling them. Keep most of them tightly wrapped up as you crack open a few at a time. This is harder on the thumbs (mine tend to get a little burned when I am opening the toasty shells). The “x” cut into the top of the nut makes it really easy to peel them. I put one in a cloth napkin in my hands and pressed the nut slightly to crack the shell. Because the chestnuts I used were cured (left to dry out for a few days before refrigeration) the peel came off very easily and the nuts had a deliciously toasted sweet flavor.
This particular batch of chestnuts came from a chestnut farm in Winfield, Ia, about 40 minutes away from me. The farm is certified organic, and run by three generations, a grandfather and grandmother, daughter, and grandson!! They have about 3 acres planted with chestnut trees, that they planted in 1992, and last year they harvested about 6,000 lbs of chestnuts! They sent me home with a baggie of nuts to plant in the field outside my house. I am going to try and have a mini chestnut tree nursery. (Let me know if you want a tree next summer!) The nuts that they gave me were from a tree planted from a chestnut from a tree owned by a woman in Kentucky (I think, or maybe Tennessee). The story goes that everyone in the area knew about her tree, and how wonderful the chestnuts were from that tree, sweet and large. She was very protective of her tree, and wouldn’t give any chestnuts away. Seems kind of silly to me. One night, someone stole into her yard and got some of the chestnuts anyway…