Foraging for Sweet Chestnuts

Posted: 9th October 2017

 

I had the pleasue of visting Aspley woods in Milton Keynes at the weekend with my son and our dog called Jess.

This is the time of year to collect your sweet chestnuts and there are plenty to be found under the trees at Aspley woods. Don’t confuse these however with horse chestnuts (conkers), which are inedible.The hedgehog-like cases are covered in long, pliable, green spikes. Split open, they contain 2-3 shiny, roughly triangular nuts with a distinctive tuft on the end. Chestnuts will be around for the next couple of weeks but you will need to be quick before the Squirrels have them.

Chestnuts are not like other nuts. They have  a floury texture and are mostly carbohydrate,unlike most nuts which are high in protein. Chestnut flour is still used in French and Italian cooking to this day. It is also worth noting that chestnut flour has no gluten and is therefore suitable for a gluten-free diet.You can buy chestnut flour from Shipton Mill.Follow the link below. 

https://www.shipton-mill.com/flour-direct/organic-chestnut-flour-gluten-free.htm

What to do with them?  Cooked, they taste slightly nutty but are fairly bland, but they work brillantly with lots of other flavours.  Preparing chestnuts is not difficult, but a bit laborious so if you can find a helper it will make it easier .Put the nuts in a big bowl and pour boiling water over them. Leave them for a couple of minutes to let the skins soften. Then scoop some out into a second bowl of cold water to cool them enough for you to be able to handle them. Peel these, and carry on in this manner until you’ve worked your way through the bowlful. Once peeled they can be made into lovely warming soup, cooked with sprouts and bacon or added to stews and stuffings.

Alternatively, and best of all, you could slit the skins with a knife (they explode otherwise) and roast them delicious.

Here is a quick recipe for Chestnut soup.

A couple of handfuls of peeled chestnuts about 200g 

  • 2 pints of chicken or ham stock
  • butter or oil
  • 1 chopped onion
  • I stick of celery peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 carrrot peeled and finley chopped
  • some grilled  crispy bacon chopped.
  • chopped parsley 
  • salt and pepper

Soften the chopped onion,celery and carrot in a knob of butter or a tablespoon of oil. Add the chestnuts and stock and bring up to the boil. Simmer until the chestnuts have collapsed. Season to taste.When cooled transfer to a blender and puree until smooth.

To finish the soup, reheat and finish with the chopped bacon and a sprinkling of parsley .