After the rain and strong winds over the last few days, the Chestnut trees at the end of our road have shed loads of their nuts, and I have been to avail myself of this welcome bounty.
You have to be quick when an opportunity like this arises. The chestnuts soon rot if left on wet ground, and the squirrels will take the best ones anyway. In fact as I was foraging a grey squirrel on a similar mission kept me company. He was so engrossed in the task that he let me get very close - perhaps 2 or 3 metres.
The BBC Good Food website gives the following advice about gathering foraged chestnuts: "A good technique for freeing the nuts from their sharp-needled shells is to use your foot (with shoe!) to 'press and roll' over the nuts and they should pop out easily." This is the method I use, and I confirm that it works well.
It only took me about a quarter of an hour to glean a big plastic carrier-bag full of chestnuts. There were plenty to be had, and I was able to be choosy. In a chestnut husk there are usually three nuts: one big one in the centre, flanked by two smaller ones. Guess which ones I picked...
When I got home I washed and weighed the haul. It amounted to 1.6kgs. Not bad for 15 minutes' work! However, the real work starts now.
My method of preparing chestnuts is to parboil them in a saucepan of water for about a minute, cool them a little and then peel off the dark brown outer skins. I don't remove the inner skins (they contribute extra fibre you know). The hot water will have made the skins quite soft and pliable and they come off easily with a little help from a small knife. Then I freeze the chestnuts in small plastic bags.
We like to eat chestnuts boiled in amongst Brussels Sprouts (especially with Christmas Dinner), and this way you can lift out however many you need, just like using frozen peas.
Chestnuts can be used in several ways - made into puree, roasted and ground into flour, etc. but most people only eat them as a savoury nibble, roasted in the oven and eaten while still hot. If you do them that way remember to cut a small nick in the outer skin to let the expanding air out, otherwise the chestnut may explode in the oven as it roasts.
And for those of you into natural beauty treatments, don't forget that the dark brown outer skins of the chestnuts can be used to make a hair-colourant!