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Thick, bright green, spiky cases (burrs) envelop two to four shiny brown nuts – so shiny they look polished.
Chestnuts were brought to Europe from Japan and China firstly by the Greeks and spread more widely by the Romans. They were used as a staple food in Europe, especially Italy.
I have always loved them and remember gathering chestnuts with my grandmother when I was a child from our nuttery, and roasting them in an old piece of tin on top of the fire.
Looking back this was a ridiculous thing to do because we usually forgot to prick them and they would suddenly jump out of the fire and either hit one of us or burn a hole in the carpet! They were delicious – as long as we remembered to remove the bitter inner skin when we peeled them.
Chestnuts are a pain to prepare – I have cut myself on many an occasion. If you are determined to enjoy them roasted, try putting the chestnuts in a deep pan and pouring over boiling water to cover them generously. Allow them to sit in the water for one to two hours.
The skins will soften and you should be able to score them with a cross on their flat side without the knife slipping or the little blighters whizzing across the kitchen when you try to cut them.
Unlike other nuts, chestnuts are high in carbohydrates and vitamin C and low in fat and protein. If you are lucky enough to be able to gather wild chestnuts, hang them in a netted bag in a cool place for a couple of days. Some of the starch – they contain twice as much as potatoes – will turn to sugar and the nuts will be sweeter.
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Top tip: Roast some chestnuts in the oven on November 5, wrap them in foil and enjoy them around the bonfire!
Alison Williams’ love of cooking and kitchen gardening led her to create a tasty and exceptional range of homemade delicious jams and chutneys in Sustead, north Norfolk. Believing in seasonality the range changes from season to season, from Norfolk Apple Blitz to piccalilli and red onion marmalade – extremely useful in the pantry and delicious too, these are deserving winners of three Gold Great Taste Awards. They are available in delis, farm shops and farmers’ markets or direct from Ali on 01263 761525, so why not try some and see for yourself.