of roasted chestnuts

There are many, many chestnut trees in England. At different times the verge and the parks are littered with big brown “conkers.” Norah often arrives home from church or the playground with her pockets bulging with little chestnut treasures. These are not edible, but the sweet chestnuts one can buy are. And like last year, street vendors are selling them all over the city. They stand in front of the fire, bundled in canvas jackets against the wind, rolling blackened chestnuts around on the grate with pokers. The air around them is full of smoke and a sweet, almost bread-like aroma. I’ve watched them scrape a bunch of hot nuts into little paper bags, pocketing a coin or two in exchange. Christmas approaches, the words ring in our heads “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire . . . “–the time had come to try it.

I bought them at the French market for a pound. My favorite vegetable seller cautioned me repeatedly to “poke a few ‘oles in ’em, now, Love.” Why? Because if you don’t, they’ll explode in “yer ‘oven an’ tha’ will be a nasty mess.” I believe you, Janice!

We decorated our {live!} tree yesterday afternoon, so the time seemed right for roasting the chestnuts. I consulted the internet and preheated to about 200 C/400 F. Several sources suggested cutting an “X” into each with a paring knife for ease of peeling and prevention of explosion.

I ended up roasting them for about 25 minutes, while Harriet was distracted with given some Cheerios and the rest of us hung ornaments on the tree. After about 15 minutes, the most amazing aroma filled our flat. It was a sweet, earthy smell, a little like nutmeg. Very homey and warm and holiday-ish. Wonderful.

The challenging part was probably peeling the bitter inner skin off of the nuts and picking through them for fresh ones–a few had gone rancid. But that’s just part of the experience, right? When we ate them they were a little chewy in the center and tasted almost as good as the smell. I can see why people dice them and add them to stuffings–this would be an ideal use for them, I think. Their texture and deep nutty flavor would be at its best. I think we’ll be doing this again, if only for how “Christmas-y” it made us all feel.

I have never seen chestnuts for sale in the States, or tasted them roasted there. In fact, my only exposure to them was in the song quoted above! Have you?

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10 Responses to of roasted chestnuts

  1. Sam Cohen says:

    Just wanted to say that the conkers you find by the side of the road everywhere here are actually horse chestnuts, not the sweet chestnuts you can eat. I wouldn’t want to find out that you’ve all made yourselves very sick collecting, roasting and eating conkers! 🙂

    • betsy says:

      Thanks, Sam! That was confusing of me, sorry–I just meant to point out that there are many chestnut trees here–didn’t mean to make it sound like we think you can eat conkers! I appreciate the quality control. SEE changes made above!

  2. Susan says:

    Hello, I think I read that the Chestnut trees in America had a terrible blight sometime back – I should really google it right here and now before posting! In Zurich, and in most major European cities I have had the pleasure to visit in Winter, they have roasted chestnuts on dozens of corners.

    I’ve never tried to do it at home, instead helping out these folks on the street selling them ready-to-eat; good for you for giving it a try! I think they are very filling and a few go a long way with me – I’m happy to let my husband eat most of the small sack 🙂

  3. Lisa Ross says:

    We have found them at the local Market Basket in bushel baskets in the produce section. We have tried them and didn’t care for them but since your post I think we may have to give them another try. Maybe the ones we got had gone bad. I think we’ll google how to cook them too and see how it turns out this year. Much love to you and your wonderful family.

  4. Sara says:

    Yes, we have often roasted chestnuts in my family for Christmas…it’s a great tradition!

  5. Janet says:

    America had a huge epidemic of Chestnut Blight (I believe at sometime in my Father’s early life.. born in 1914) . It killed almost the entire country’s trees. Thus no roasted chestnuts.

  6. Elena says:

    Nope, the only time I’ve had them was in Praugue but I think I was too young to really appreciate them!

  7. therigneys says:

    I had roasted chestnuts from a street vendor in New York once! Same paper cone you mentioned above. The smell alone was delightful!

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