The Chestnut Adventure - By Beth a.k.a. Wearmanyhats
“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” I sang to my hubby one day long ago. We had just been given a 10 pound bag of chestnuts, and both hubby and I were staring it down.
“What do we do with these?” he asked dubiously.
“How? You ever had them before?”
“Nope,” I answered, confidence filling me up to a ridiculous level. “But I’ll put them on a tray in the oven on 350 degrees and then we’ll try them.” I had no idea how crazy that plan would turn out.
The next day I spread them out on a tray and placed them in the oven. 350 degrees was the magic number my mother had always baked everything on, so I figured this was the best heat to turn these little chestnut nuggets into ambrosia.
My Oldest son, who was four at the time, was playing on the floor in the kitchen at that moment, and I turned and winked at him. “Pretty soon we’re going to have a great snack, son.”
All of a sudden I hear a loud POP! inside the oven.
“What the…?” I asked, flipping on the light and peering through the little oven door window.
BANG! I saw a chestnut obliterate itself into thin air. Horrified that my chemistry project was going awry, I hurriedly opened the door and took out the tray.
Another loud bang and I felt shards of shell go flying past my cheek. In a second I scooped up my son and hustled both of us around the corner into the living room.
Oldest and I peeped around the corner like two bystanders in an 1880 gunfight. BANG! Another chestnut exploded, sending a hail of chunks flying in all directions.
“Damn!” I exclaimed, covering my son’s ears. That’s never a good sign. Swearing and cooking should never accompany one another. When the noise finally stopped, I approached the stove cautiously. Over a third of them were gone, their remains in clumps around the kitchen. I felt like a survivor of a Blitzkrieg.
I called my husband and explained the problem.
When he stopped laughing (darn man), he said, “Good thing you didn’t get any shells in your eyes.”
Darn. I hadn’t thought of that.
“Why didn’t you just leave them in the oven?” he asked.
When I didn’t reply, he said, “Why didn’t you call the County Extension Agent?”
What a brilliant idea!
In a moment I was on the phone with the Angels of God that are better known as the County Extension Agents. I asked to speak to whoever was in charge of foods, and soon a lovely, innocent voice came on the line.
While I explained the failed experiment to her, I scrubbed down every dead chestnut body I could find. Once I even glanced up and made a mental note that Hubby would have to help me scrub the dead ones off the ceiling.
When she stopped laughing (must have the same sense of humor as my husband), she asked me to hold while she looked up “Chestnuts” in her resource book. Moments later, she explained that before roasting chestnuts on 325 degrees (close enough) you should cut a slit in the shell. “That way the steam can escape,” she explained. Roast fifteen minutes.
Armed with this new information, I roasted ten in the oven. When they came out, they were rich, sweet and filling. I could only eat two. Later we used them for snacks, and they were lovely. Turns out those chestnuts do not only taste great, they are excellent in nutrition. They are high in iron, and possess a similar nutritional value as foods like corn, sweet potato, or regular potatoes, plus they have a high quality protein. The health benefits go on and on. Unfortunately blight wiped out most of the chestnut trees here in the United States, but hopefully growers will bring the trees back into production so we can see them more commonly on our tables in the future.
No one in our family has ever let me forget my chestnut adventure. Even when I called the County Extension Agent after that with any questions, I identified myself as the person who blew up the chestnuts in the oven. Funny thing, she never forgot me, and she always laughed before I could ask my next question. Sometimes cooking experiences are just way too memorable.
To read more of Beth's writing, visit her blog here.