Chestnuts, aroma of centuries past, delicious afterschool snack

13 Feb


December 10, 2009

These are enchanted end of year days, the lights strung over the streets in festive bells and stars, candles in neighbors’ windows, the smell of fir trees and blue crisp skies. I enjoy the nostalgia for the traditions of my childhood, and for things that maybe never pertained to my family’s traditions, but that I would like to pretend were always a part.

Chestnuts are a tradition I like to pretend were always a part of December.

My daughter may not remember the traditions of the first few years of her life. Of course all the goodness is in there, imprinted and for that time I am ever grateful. But going on 6 (as she reminds me almost daily), what we do now, she is going to remember. She is taking ownership now of what her family rituals are, as I take the time to bring old traditions to life and to create new ones with her.

I am up for any activity or notion that connects us to the Earth, to our greater family and ancestors, and most especially if it is connected to a song. When I saw chestnuts being sold at the farmers market, I had to buy a big bag of them and explained to Nina that this was as essential to the season as lighting candles, making soup and drinking hot apple cider. Roasting chestnuts is something we, lucky enough to live in a place where they grow, simply must do to honor the trees and those who harvest.

Chestnut trees have often been called bread trees because their starch content resembles grains more than nuts. They are high in complex carbohydrates and have surprisingly high amounts of vitamin C. They have tons of trace minerals including iron, are warming to the body and are very low in fat. They can be roasted, boiled, mashed like potatoes, made into flour.. what’s not to love?

How to roast:

To make peeling them easier (and to avoid explosions), it is most important to cut an x through each chestnut before putting them into the oven. Those close to me know that I only fire up the big oven on very special occasions (pie and cake and big feast making events). For daily cooking, I usually turn to my trusty toaster oven to get the job done. I preheated my mini oven to 450 before making my x’s, and then put them to bake for 20 minutes.

Voila! Perfectly aromatic and absolutely delicious.

The feeling of complete success came of course this morning, when Nina looked at me expectantly and asked, are we roasting chestnuts today after school?

I flash forward ten years and imagine her looking at the calendar as December approaches with delight and expectancy of all the wonderful things we wait all year to do. Of course we’ll roast chestnuts today. This is what we do, what we have always done this time of year, in homage of the bread tree.

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