I have alluded briefly in previous posts to our having chestnut trees on our property. There is one in the front of the house, by the driveway, and one on the edge of the backyard. Both are by the property line with one of our neighbors.
Chestnut trees are odd for a couple of reasons. One is the flower shape (the male flowers, as the trees do have 2 kinds). They are very long and thin flowers. Then there are the fruits in which the nuts themselves grow. The fruits are spiny all over, and those spines are very sharp and painful (you only want to pick the things up with thick gloves on).
In the late summer, the fruits begin to fall off the trees, and split open (sometimes in that order, sometimes in the reverse). We usually try to do a daily check to pick up the latest nuts that can be found on the ground. The empty spiny husks we leave to dry out (eventually we collect them to be burnt in our wood stove).
The first year we lived in this house (2008), we discovered the hard way that chestnuts provide a home for babies. Baby insects, that is. The first time we had collected a lot of nuts we just put them in a paper bag on the kitchen counter. After several days, we could hear noises coming from the bag – and it turned out that lots of little larvae had chewed their way out of the nuts and through the bag, and were crawling around on the counter (presumably looking for someplace to pupate). We ended up throwing out a lot of those nuts.
In 2009, we got tons of nuts, and figured out from various sites on the Internets that refrigerating the nuts was a good way to keep the larvae at bay. So we’d leave the nuts on the counter to dry for a day or so, then bag them and put them in the fridge. When we had a chance, we’d cook them.
Cooking them involved first cutting an ‘X’ in each one, i.e. making two intersecting cuts with a knife, so that steam doesn’t cause the nut to explode. That cutting is not hard to do, as the shells are fairly soft compared to other nuts. We initially roasted them in the oven for 20 minutes or so, and then wrapped them in a towel to steam for a few minutes (to help soften the skins and make them easier to peel). Peeling them was the worst part, as the flaps of shell created by the cuts would have opened outward, but also hardened a bit, so one would have to grasp pointy parts and pull them apart. This could be somewhat painful, and on a few occasions drew blood.
Once each nut was peeled, we’d cut it open and examine it. Some nut meats would need bad spots cut out, and some would be really hard and would just get rejected outright. We’d always eat a few while doing this, and then put the rest away for later use.
As you can probably tell, processing chestnuts is a bit time consuming. The process of cutting slits in a batch of nuts (approximately 70 to 80 of them), roasting, peeling, sorting and such, would generally take 2 to 3 hours. That second year, we had so many that we had to devote most of our evenings over 3 weeks or so to dealing with them.
Next post: What we do with the nut meats, and finding a better way.