After many days of sunshine, we wake to a rather overcast Sunday. The chill in the air is accompanied by gentle rain showers. We pull on a jumper and decide to go with it, pretending it is Autumn rather than early Summer.
We remember a kilo of foraged chestnuts, lying dormant in the freezer since late autumn. We turn on the radio, take out our pen knives and set to work, side by side.
No matter what method you use, preparing foraged chestnuts is always a labour of love. We tend to chill (or freeze) them first for at least an hour before starting. Using a strong, sharp knife, we cut them in half from top to bottom. Then we plunge them into boiling water for about ten minutes before draining and removing the nuts with a paring knife. It helps to keep the nuts warm as we work, as this helps the skins to come off. Once all the nuts are skinned, they then go back into a saucepan covered with water to simmer for about half an hour until tender.
As we tend to eat mainly vegetarian (and at the moment without both gluten and dairy products too!) chestnuts are one of our favourite wild ingredients. Unlike other nuts, they are lower in oil and protein but higher in starch, which makes them a useful addition to cakes and savoury loaves, including our favourite wild chestnut and mushroom loaf from our French Vegetarian cookery bible: Ma cuisine végétarienne pour tous les jours by Garance Leureux (Editions La Plage).
500g of wild chestnuts in their skins will yield about 350g once prepared. And what to do with all those left over husks...?