From bristly foliage
complete, polished wood, gleaming mahogany,
as a violin newly
born of the treetops,
offers its sealed-in gifts,
the hidden sweetness
that grew in secret
amid birds and leaves,
a model of form,
kin to wood and flour,
an oval instrument
that holds within it
intact delight, an edible rose.
In the heights you abandoned
the sea-urchin burr
that parted its spines
in the light of the chestnut tree;
through that slit
you glimpsed the world,
Pablo Neruda Ode to a Chestnut
When they were little, my children were completely fascinated by a “tennis ball tree” in the front garden of a neighbour’s home. From the road, the fruit on the tree looked very much like soft and furry tennis balls. We all knew they were chestnuts, of course, but it was fun to imagine that tennis balls might grow on trees!
Chestnuts are in plentiful supply at local farmer’s markets and fresh produce markets... and are a fresh product that behave more like a fruit than a nut. Traditionally, chestnuts are roasted over an open fire. They can also be cooked in the oven, a microwave, a sandwich maker or an old fashioned vertical griller, should you still possess such a thing! Once cooked, the creamy white flesh of the chestnut is similar in texture to a roast potato with a delicate, sweet nutty flavour.
In Maggie's Farm (Allen & Unwin 1993), Maggie Beer says chestnuts are a wonderful accompaniment to pigeon. I must say I have never felt the urge to eat pigeon however I do enjoy chestnuts! When cooking chestnuts, the most important step is to cut a cross in the outer shell of the chestnut. To bake, place chestnuts onto a baking tray and bake in a preheated oven 200 degrees C for 15-20 minutes or until the shells have split open. To microwave, place chestnuts in a single layer on a microwave safe plate. Cook, uncovered, on 850 watts/High/100% for approximately 2 minutes. To boil for a puree, place chestnuts in a pan of cold water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until flesh is tender.
To peel chestnuts, wrap the cooked nuts in a clean tea towel. When cool enough to handle but still warm, remove the outer shell and inner brown skin. You should note that chestnuts are difficult to peel if left until they go cold.The firmer chestnuts feel, the fresher they will be. When buying, look for even-sized nuts that feel heavy for their size, with undamaged firm shells. To avoid them drying out, store chestnuts in an airtight container, paper bag or perforated plastic bag in the crisper section of the refrigerator. Chestnuts are best eaten within three weeks of purchase. One kilogram of unshelled chestnuts will yield approximately 700g of shelled nuts.
Enjoy this deliciously rich baked chestnut and chocolate pudding recipe from Chestnuts Australia.
BAKED CHESTNUT & CHOCOLATE PUDDING
500g peeled chestnuts
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups milk
2 teaspoons butter
1 egg, beaten
Prepare and peel chestnuts, then simmer in water for further 20 minutes or until soft. Drain. Combine cocoa, sugar, milk and butter in a saucepan. Cook over gentle heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Puree chestnuts and add to cocoa mixture with egg. Stir well and pour into greased one-litre pudding mould. Place mould in a pan of hot water and bake in moderate oven 180 degrees C for about 45 minutes or until pudding is firm. Serve in small portions with fresh cream. Serves 6.
Tell me dear readers, do you love chestnuts too?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.