Sunday, 23 September 2012

Chestnuts, Roasting or Otherwise - Ten Quick Facts

Wonderful sweet chestnuts are just about to come into season - usually October. They are on offer raw, cooked, candied, vacu-packed or pureed, and are really versatile. The food magazines will no doubt be giving us plenty of ways of using them in the run-up to, er, Christmas.

Here are some facts about them - good for a mention, perhaps, as everyone sits around the festive table looking forward to their nut roast wellington. Or even my lemon-stuffed cashew nut roast en croute somewhere in the history of this blog. Or whatever.

by Pauline Mak
 1  There is evidence of the cultivation of chestnuts since about 2,000 BC.

 2  Before potatoes arrived, and where wheat flour was not available, they were an
         important source of carbohydrates and could be milled into flour. The flour could be
        used to make bread, which might stay fresh for up to two weeks.

 3  Sweet chestnut trees are known in the USA as Spanish chestnuts.

 4  They have a hard outer skin, the husk or pericarpus, and a soft inner skin, the pellicle, 
         which sticks to the fruit and follows its grooves.

 5  They are enjoyed by deer, wild boar, squirrels, pigeons, jays - and the chestnut weevil.

 6  The American version weighs somewhere around 5g, and some Japanese varieties
         up to 40g. 

 7  Chestnuts can be roasted or grilled (slashing the husk first to avoid a splatting),
         peeled and deep fried until they float to the surface, boiled, or ground into flour. The
         vacu-packed versions are ready to eat, and tinned puree comes sweetened or not.

 8  They contain about 180 calories per 100g of the nut itself, lower than almonds,
         walnuts and dried fruit. There's no cholesterol or gluten, but some copper and
         vitamin C.
Marrons Glaces by Kate Hopkins
 9  Marrons glaces have been made in France since the 16th century, by softening the
         chestnuts then candying in sugar syrup. Those sold for Christmas were actually
         picked the year before. 

10 In Portugal they are traditionally eaten on St Martin's Day, November 11th, and were
         once widely to be considered to be food for the poor.

A favourite way of using these (cooked) is with chunks of mushroom, grated nutmeg and a creamy sauce, ladled over tagliatelle. But if I had an open fire, they'd be roasting by it, whether or not Jack Frost is nipping. Watch out, Merchant Gourmet, I'm after your vacu-packs already.


  1. How do you know such useful stuff! (I know one song about them, and that if you harden them in the oven before playing conkers, that's cheating.)

  2. Thanks for the RT, Jo. I just like nosing around for info! About conkers, I think (a) cheating is everything, and (b) wasn't there something about vinegar soaking?

    1. Vinegar rings a bell - I'll have to ask my brothers, they cheated at everything!