Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I've Found the Motherload

Of Of chestnuts, that is. I've had this seven year obsession where I've been coveting thy neighbor's chestnut tree. I wasn't sure what kind of tree it was but I was fairly certain it was some sort of edible chestnut and not of the inedible and often confused for horse chestnut or buckeye trees.

The Universe always seems to answer my requests in her own time and since my requests are often in the form of food--from the scavenged to the viand--I usually have patience for the arrival of said gifts. A girl has her limits, however, and for two months each out of the last seven years I have passed this house daily and cringed as I have observed these nuts left to rot before being mowed over; completely unappreciated. Several years ago, I played the sleuth, found the home owners in the County tax records and sent them a lovely letter offering to clean up their spiny mess in exchange for some chestnuts. As every creepy stalker's letter should, mine went unanswered and my desperation continued to mount. Shall I knock on their door? Well, I have and no matter how many cars were in the driveway, these people have either not wanted to be bothered or just don't answer their front door. When someone knocks on my front door, I know them to be either selling something or delivering a package so I really am in no place to be put off by this. Besides, I just want their chestnuts. Very badly.

As I passed by on Monday, a real, live, lady was in the driveway. I didn't notice her as I stopped my car in the middle of the road to grab a chestnut and one of the leaves for positive tree identification. The woman caught glimpse of me, asked me if I wanted some more, and then told me to come back and collect some anytime. A car came up behind me and when I had returned moments later, this woman had vanished. She may not exist at all and perhaps years of obsessing over this tree caused me to dream sequence this occurrence. Either way, the theft that followed yesterday afternoon did not seem so roguish even if I was parked along the road, car still running as I filled a box rapidly with my leather glove covered hands.

It turns out the tree is a Chinese Chestnut* and it is edible and, seemingly, all mine.

Spiny fruit removed, a shiny brown chestnut is exposed that simply needs roasting and eating.  Chestnuts have a softer, meatier nut with a high moisture content than other more familiar nuts in the beech family (such as hazelnuts) so you will need to cut a small X in the flat side of the nut with a very sharp knife or a commercial chestnut piercer.  Roast in a 375 degree oven about 15-20 minutes or until the nuts are fragrant and the outer shell is beginning to crack and peel away from the nuts. Like eating pistachios, you still have to work here to peel the shell off to eat.  I also very much enjoy these peeled and sautéed in a bit of butter. 

Some other uses for chestnuts are for Holiday stuffing such as this Apple Chestnut Quinoa Stuffing for roast duck. This weekend I am eager to put my newfound treasure to a new use and try my hand at a sformato di castagne or Italian style savory chestnut pudding. This recipe has been on my to do list for years but with chestnuts being so expensive and difficult to come by in my neck of the woods (until now!) I've been unwilling to use what little I had for experimentation.

I'll be sure to tackle it, camera in hand, and let you know how it goes.

I am grateful to the Universe for answering my requests for edible provisions and I plan on paying this favor back and then some. I am hoping my phantom benefactor will again appear so that I can thank her for her generosity and officially introduce myself. I hope she will accept my offer to clean up after that tree in exchange for these delicious gifts.

Thank you Lady Universe. Persistence and patience do pay off and, as the Italians say, Vale la pena--"it's worth it."

Have a happy, healthy week everyone. ~

The Country Tart

*The American Chestnut has been all but destroyed by a blight that occured around the turn of the last century. There are only a handful of trees left in all of North America and these are studied as scienific marvels due to their unexplainable blight resistance.