Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gone nutty- for Chestnut season

Autumn is such a beautiful and abundant time of year. It brings out the little squirrel in me and all I want to do is forage for food, stockpile it for the bitter days to come and ferret around in the leaf detritus that scatters itself all around us. Fortunately, there are some activities that fulfill all these particular needs, and so on Saturday we went chestnutting.
Now for the un-initiated (of which I was one), chestnutting does not involve tree climbing and branch shaking. It's a far more peaceful pass-time than that. 
Ruefleur Chestnut farm is located in the Melbourne Dandenongs and makes a beautiful setting for the discovery of fresh chestnuts. All you need are heavy duty rubber gloves (believe me, you need them), a bag for your treasured finds and a stick to poke amongst the leaves with.
The chestnut 'burrs' (spikey casings) fall from the trees in autumn, hit the ground and spill their precious contents amongst the falling leaves.
It's very pretty, and it's a gold-mine of nutty joy. The majority of the chestnuts grown in Australia are called the 'domestic' variety and have a couple of nuts in each burr. There are others called Marrons, which have a single nut in each burr, but these are not so common in the Antipodes, even though they are the nuts traditionally used for the coveted (and expensive) Marrons Glace
At the end of an hour or so with our focus on the ground, we had 8kgs of chestnuts and a whole lot of shelling to do... worth it for the multitude of Autumn recipes I have planned. Washed, air dried and stored, all we await now is the first fire of the season for some roasting fun.  Stay tuned. And in the meantime...

Sweet Chestnut Puree:

  • 1kg fresh chestnuts (to yield 500g chestnut meat)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 a vanilla pod, seeds only  

Split the chestnut shells, then boil the nuts for 15mins. While still hot, cut nuts in half and crumble meat into a bowl. In a heavy based saucepan bring the water to the boil, add sugar and stir to dissolve, then add chestnut meat. Bring back to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30mins or until the water has reduced. Add vanilla seeds. Strain the nut meat, reserving the sugar syrup. Place nutmeat in a blender and blend to a paste, adding reserved sugar syrup to loosen if necessary until you have the desired puree consistency.
Serve with ice-cream, or use in cakes. Or, fill puff pastry circles with the puree and cook till golden. Tasty and so versatile!   

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