Fall is here and I couldn’t be happier. Despite the unseasonable 70 degree days nothing screams November more than desserts covered in cinnamon, hot spiked mulled cider and roasted chestnuts.
These days, most people wouldn’t recognize a chestnut if it knocked them on the head. When my mother was a little girl in Milburn, NJ, chestnut trees lined the streets. They fell to the ground in seasonal heaps where my mother and her sisters fought off roving bands of chestnut poachers. They cleaned out whole neighborhoods for various Asian markets. Chestnuts are traditional in many Szechuan stir fry dishes and a pretty labor intensive product.
Especially when it turns into Guerrilla warfare.
In Korea, chestnuts and dates are thrown at the bride after the wedding. She tries to catch as many as possible in her voluminous wedding dress. All this to symbolize fertility and probably dexterity. If you can catch a chestnut in a dress you can catch a kid doing just about anything.
So what do you do with a chestnut?
Let me break it down for you. Most chestnuts are sold bulk at markets. I suggest two pounds for a small gathering. For those who are just nibbling, each person can have about four large or six small per person.
Set your oven to 350 degrees F and cut an x into the top of each chestnut. Serrated knives works better. Leave in a pyrex(or similar) baking dish and cover with water for at least 15 minutes. This slightly rehydrates the shells and makes sure the papery coating steams off in one piece.
Dump the water and roast for 40-50 minutes until the chestnuts split open and the flesh is slightly golden and tender.
Peel and eat! My favorite accompaniment, drink wise, is a quick mulled cider with a good slug of whiskey. Toss a few cloves and a cinnamon stick into a pot and add cider. If you have an orange, feel free to add a sliver of peeled zest.