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As the days get shorter and colder and the leaves turn colour and fall, the aroma of chestnuts roasting is one of the harbingers of winter. In the Middle Ages, sweet chestnuts that are full of starch were a basic foodstuff for poor people; they were often called “poor man’s bread”. Nowadays they’re a popular taste treat.

The simplest way of preparing them is to roast them. Cut crosswise slits in the top with a small sharp knife, put the chestnuts on a baking tray and bake them for about 15 minutes at 180 to 200 °C. They should be ready when the shell begins to bulge outwards. Peel off the shell and the furry inner skin and eat the chestnuts while they’re still warm and aromatic. Roasting, or boiling, makes the chestnut flesh soft and develops the sweetly nutty aroma.

Sweet chestnut puree makes a tasty side dish for venison and other types of game. It’s a tasty filling for a goose or turkey and it’s great in risotto and with red cabbage or brussels sprouts. To make a creamy chestnut soup, simmer the chestnuts for around ten minutes in hot water, peel them, drop them into a vegetable broth with onions, bacon, cloves and cinnamon. Cook for another 10 minutes then puree everything, season to taste and serve with a dollop of cream. Desserts, bread, cakes and biscuits can also be made using sweet chestnuts. Honey of maple syrup will accentuate the nutty flavour. Sweet chestnut compote is a typical desert on the autumn menu. A classic from France is chestnut preserve – as a spread, in pancakes or as part of a dessert.

Sweet chestnuts are available fresh between September and March. The best nuts have a smooth, glossy shell and feel heavy for their size. They shouldn’t be stored more than a week at room temperature, because after that there’s a risk that they’ll start to germinate and lose some of their flavour. Chestnut lovers wander the woods looking for wild sweet chestnuts; they’re ripe when they’ve fallen to the ground with the prickly casings split open. Once you have carried them home, it’s a good idea to store them for a couple of days in a dry, well-ventilated place. Part of the starch will then turn to sugar making the chestnuts taste sweeter. Who can resist the smell of roasting chestnuts floating in the icy winter air?


Source: Heike Kreutz,

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