Tuesday 3 October 2006

Better than Conkers


We’ve more than half a dozen sweet chestnut trees around the farm, mostly in the boundary hedges. A survey today reveals that although all the trees have fruit only two trees are producing anything of harvestable quality although it’s possible the other trees will mature later.

The two most excellent trees are in the big entrance field on the boundary with the forest near to the house. One tree is dropping heavy crops of small nuts which are ripe and ready now and most delicious roasted. Each prickly seed case has three or so potential nutlets inside but usually only one has developed leaving barren shells where the nut has failed. The husks are splitting on the tree and dropping the nuts out of the husks making them very easy to gather. The other tree is producing much bigger husks than I’ve ever seen before with just one or two large nuts in each case. This tree isn’t quite as ready as its neighbour and although the wind has brought down many prickly green balls they are not opening to reveal the nuts inside. These prickles really hurt.

These two types correspond to the horticultural definitions of marrons and chataigne, the larger nuts are the marrons, used in the eponymous marrons glaces.

I’ve gathered nuts and a big pile of the unsplit cases. I have noticed a few maggots in some of the nuts but generally the quality of these chestnuts is far better than those I bought in a major supermarket last year.

The nuts will be eaten roasted, boiled, dried (if I can rig a dehydrator) and made into candied chestnuts. Unfortunately chestnuts don’t store well or for long in an unprocessed state, needing cold, humidity controlled conditions and still being prone to drying out or going mouldy.

I’m hoping the green cases will finish maturing and split open naturally because they are almost impossible to open otherwise, and of course, there are loads more to come on both trees so there will be plenty of time to gather nuts again.

A useful resource: The Australian Chestnut Growers has been helpful.

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