In our household there is one seasonal tradition we enjoy more than most; every year, we gather, roast and feast on sweet chestnuts.
We live within acres of chestnut coppice so as you can imagine our woodland provides us with vast amounts of these Autumn gems and this year has been an absolutely bumper crop.
There is nothing quite like venturing out into the woods on a bright, crisp Autumn morning; the sunlight twinkling through the trees, lighting all the colours that cling on way up high in the trees, as well as lighting the woodland floor and the crunchy surface layer of crisp, fallen leaves.
Amongst the leaves, the spiky castings of the edible sweet chestnut can be found, often as we gather there is the distant thud of the nuts falling to the ground from way up high! Our daughter has perfected the art of collecting the nuts if they are still in their casting; she opens them with her feet, carefully prising them open and then taking them out and quickly popping them in her pocket or her basket. She discards the flat nuts, in favour of the plump, firm chestnuts, as these are the ones that taste the very best.
This has been something we have done together since she was tiny, myself and Paul would head out with her in the sling and as got older and began to toddle about the woods, she would excitedly squeal and babble away if she found one of the round, smooth, shiny nuts.
As I mentioned in my last post ‘An after school walk in the woods‘, our days of foraging in the woods and spending time together outdoors has been few and far between since she started school, but when she is out, she simply cannot pass one of the prickly castings or brown nut without investigating it then promptly stashing it away… there is not one coat in our house that doesn’t have chestnuts in it’s pocket!
Roasting chestnuts is the traditional way to cook them and I feel gives the best flavour, however there are plenty of other ways to cook them; from baking to boiling. We however roast them, myself and Paul used to sit down here in the woods long before we actually lived here and had a family and snack on these lovely Autumn treats in front of a woodland fire.
We make sure we remove any nuts with weevils in them; you can easily spot the ones with weevils in if you pick through what you have gathered and discard any with the tell-tale weevil holes. We then prepare the nuts for roasting and to avoid any explosions, we slit the shells with a shallow cross with a sharp knife – I leave this to my Paul, as my knife skills are fairly frightening! – we then pop the prepared nuts in our makeshift pan over our fire-bowl and roast the chestnuts until the shell splits open at the cut, or if we hear them hissing.
Once the shell is removed we gobble them up and enjoy the wonderful taste whilst enjoying the fabulous aroma of the next batch of chestnuts roasting over the fire… our older dog is never far away at this stage as he loves to eat sweet chestnuts too!
This wild food is one of Nature’s seasonal gems and one that has created such wonderful memories and a magical tradition, not only as a family, but the early days of ‘us’ as a couple. One of our absolute favourite things to do on a weekend during Autumn/Winter…
I would love to hear about the traditions you have this time of year; whether it’s a walk to a favourite pub, digging in indoors with friends and family, or a seasonal forage outdoors like this.