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Stories from the valley

Chestnuts roasting on an Open Fire… What You didn’t know!

Contributed by Tim Johnson

Snow softly falling, caroling, roasted chestnuts and Dickens all go together. Never mind that most of us have never seen a chestnut, let alone actually eaten one, they are a part of our ideal of Christmas. Upon a closer look, it’s a wonder anyone ever picked up this giant seed and decided it needed to be roasted over an open fire in the first place. 

Frankly, chestnuts look to me rather like the nut equivalent of a balled-up hedgehog. In fact, they are so spiny, gloves are standard gear for collecting them at the base of these very large trees. 

Now that you have a large bucket of super prickly nuts, what to do? Well, next you need to pry the spiny hull from the nut inside. I use pliers to accomplish this, since I can’t seem to avoid getting stuck by the spines even, while wearing gloves.


Now you are rewarded by more work to turn these large, heavily-husked seeds into edible food. Here is where roasting comes into play. The chestnut hull is not hard like a walnut or almond and therefore cannot be cracked. Instead, the tough leathery hull needs to be steamed open. 

With a knife (a bread knife works well) cut an ‘X” through the flat side of the hull and lightly score the pale nut inside. Another option that is easier is to use kitchen scissors and snip through the hull completely across the arch of the nut. Both methods will ensure that the nut does not explode during roasting. Soak for two hours in water and drain. Toss them on a sheet pan in a 425-degree oven for 20-minutes. Return to a bowl and cover with a kitchen towel for 10-minutes to cool. 

The chestnuts are now ready to peel. The roasting steams the nut from the inside, curling back the husk and the thin inner skin. Peel both completely.

NOW you are ready to enjoy the sweet, chewy nut inside. Who knew? Turns out not just Dickens. Cultures around the globe enjoy these unique nuts and incorporated them into great cuisine. Check out these links for more.