22 Dec, 2011
Advent activity #9 - Roasting chestnuts
What is it about Christmas and chestnuts? The link was probably made because of a certain song we hear a lot this time of year: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose…”
The Nat King Cole version is a favourite of mine, so before I go much further, please allow me to indulge in a brief musical interlude. Thankyouverymuch.
Chestnuts by the fire might be a romantic notion, but did you know it used to be the kind of food that prevented people from starvation?
“Over 2000 years ago villages in the Apennine woodlands, which stretch the entire length of Italy’s peninsula along the east coast and were once thick with chestnut trees, survived long winters on the trees’ bounty. The fallen nuts were picked from the forest floor and dried in two-story stone drying shacks, the remains of which can still be found throughout the region. The nut also played a role in the Roman Empire: On their lengthy campaigns, Roman legions planted chestnut trees to help provide food for their vast armies. Polenta was made with chestnut meal until corn arrived in the 16th century. And castagnaccio, a flatbread of chestnut flour baked on an oiled stone, was a common staple. The gluten-free flour was used to bake heavy, dense loaves of bread, and was prized for its resistance to spoilage. If the chestnut was a staple during hard times, at least it was nutritious—the starchy nut is high in carbohydrates and has nearly as much vitamin C as a lemon.” (sourced from here)
Since chestnuts are an important part of our food heritage, I thought it was high time we tried roasting them ourselves.
We bought ours at Farm Boy. Here they are, ready to be prepped:
This next part is not very kid-friendly. Using a very sharp paring knife, carve an X across the flat side of each chestnut, making sure you pierce the shell. (Alternately, you could also make ONE slice across the rounded side with a serrated knife, which I think I will try time because it seems like it would be easier.) The cutting part was a bit time-consuming and resulted in a few numb fingers by the end of it. :)
Put your chestnuts in a 350 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes. The shells will peel back like this:
We happened to be on our way to Westboro village to do some Christmas shopping so we brought a few hot ones with us to keep our hands warm for the walk.
Surprise, they look like little brains!
Underneath the hard brown shell is a thin papery layer that we peeled away with our fingernails. I read later that microwaving them for 20 seconds (after they’ve cooled) would have made it easier to remove, but it wasn’t a big deal. In fact, peeling the chestnuts gave us something to do while we walked and talked.
Roasted chestnuts have a dry, slightly sweet starchy flavour. I never really enjoyed them as a kid, but I have grown to like them well enough. (For what it’s worth, Sarah really liked them.) I can certainly see how they’d be good in a stuffing. They’d add a bit of crunchy texture that would be welcome in a good stuffing (like this one).
Anyway, yes, I was glad we did this together. I think we all learned something!
This post is part of my 25 days of Christmas advent activities (although I’m actually doing only 12 this year). You can read more about the countdown calendar idea here.
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