Autumn is in full glory on the mountain. Red, orange and golden-brown leaves of all shapes and sizes herald the soon to come frosty winter. And, spiky coated chestnut husks are all around on the ground.
As we are nearing the end of “chestnut season”, I thought I’d reminisce and share with you a tale.
On a visit to the bohemian city of Melbourne one cool autumn day years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to come across a little lady selling roasted chestnuts on the sidewalk.
Chestnuts! Real chestnuts!
Imagine my joy. I’d never eaten them before!
I'd moved from a warm temperate part of the country to a mountain region where hand-made seasonal signs advertising abundant autumn harvests are seen wherever you go. In the city, street vendors sell warm chestnuts to passers by. And, the Chestnut Festival is a hugely popular annual event.
It seems, chestnuts are considered highly and are very welcome here.
Without hesitation, I bought a bag. I was so excited to sample this aromatic delicacy which evokes sighs and nostalgic, wistful thoughts from folk far away in the Northern Hemisphere.
And, yes, I was very familiar with the "Christmas Song". It’s a classic.
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
Sounds so cosy. I imagine snuggling down in a big comfy armchair, warm tartan blanket tucked around my knees, enveloped in a rosy red glow as I stare into the flickering flames.
I've had a very romantic notion of chestnuts from a lifetime of cultural references in movies and literature.
Although, in our topsy turvy world, Christmas here is far from cold, and chestnuts in summer are, well, not on the menu.
And so, grasping the little brown paper bag containing the warm promise of new found delight in my hands, I searched for a place to sit. Settling my backside on some lovely old time worn church steps, I took a moment to indulge my senses.
There, on that cold but sunny mid-morning, newly arrived in this huge, handsome, bustling metropolis, amid cars, buses, delightful old trams and people to-ing and fro-ing, was I.
With the autumn sun gently warming me as I gazed at the beautiful old buildings, I reached into the bag, peeled back a crisp rich, mahogany coloured shell revealing its plump golden nugget and savoured,
my first ever roasted chestnut.
The buttery chewiness was at first alien to my taste buds. But soon, I found I had to have another, then another. One after the next, tempting me to finish them all.
With a full belly and a feeling of contentment, I smiled.
Finally, I knew.
A week or so later, and with the recent memory of that fine morning still very fresh in my mind, I came across raw chestnuts for sale at my local fruit & veg store.
I thought, "I'll take some home and roast my own".
I had no “open” fire or chestnut roaster to toast them in. But, I had heard that they could be cooked in a conventional oven.
I bought two dozen, took them home and spaced them out on a flat tray, then placed them in the pre-heated oven.
And, smiled in anticipation of the warm, creamy, nutty delights to come.
I busied myself about the kitchen. Soon, my son would be home from school and we would discuss his day over a bite to eat.
When he arrived, I excitedly told him that there was, “a surprise waiting in the oven”.
Uh huh. Yep, you all know what’s coming, right?
Almost as soon as the words came out of my mouth… Bang!!
The sound that came from the kitchen was like a car exhaust backfiring. In the oven?
I opened the oven door to find that one of the chestnuts had shattered, leaving a coarse residue of cream coloured powder all over the interior!
“What the … ?”
Clearly without thinking, I quickly took out the tray - loaded with the (UN-detonated) remaining nuts and placed it on the stove top.
As I turned away to get a dish cloth, the kitchen suddenly became a culinary war zone, as the rest of the chestnuts EXPLODED!
These seemingly innocent glossy brown pods had turned into organic projectile missiles, discharging the same coarse dry powder and shell fragments all over the stove, rangehood, sink, benches, shelves, cupboard doors, top of the fridge, the ceiling, the floor - even into the bloody salt pig!
And, all over me.
My back was covered in pulverised creamy-white 'soot' and chunky bits. I would spend the rest of the evening finding more tiny bits in my hair. Later, I found pieces of shell in the next room and half way up the stairs!
In the aftermath, when the last remaining nut had blown, as calm as can be, my son turns to me and says,
"aren't you supposed to cut into them or something before you put them in the oven?"
Oh bloody hell, that'll teach me for not doing my research before I attempt an unknown dish! Haha!
So, I now have my own fond memories of roasted chestnuts :)
These days, we buy farm-fresh raw chestnuts from our favourite grower here on the mountain - a dear old Greek man who, along with his sweet wife, has been growing and harvesting them for many years.
And, we oven “roast” them at home.
It’s not as romantic as on an open fire, but we relish the smell throughout the house just the same and eagerly await these little earthy-sweet morsels on a cold evening.
Minus the rapid-fire eruptions and resulting clean up.
Ahhhh, I love autumn – I think you all know that by now :)